The relationship between religion
and the military has a long and varied history --whether it be
Christians in the Air Force, Sikhs in the Army, Muslims or
Buddhists in the Navy, or any combination thereof. It
involves not only the obvious military regulations, but also
Constitutional interpretation, Supreme Court decisions,
Congressional law, Presidential decrees, and more.
Below are some of the more important
references regarding both the current state and the history of
the religion/military relationship. Suggestions for
additions or critiques are welcomed.
Department of Defense
Department of Defense Directive
(DoDD) 1300.17, Accommodation of Religious Practices
Within the Military Services.
21 November 2003
Primary document guiding all military services in their
interactions with religion.
Of note, from paragraph 3.1:
"A basic principle of our nation is free exercise of
religion. The Department of Defense places a high value on
the rights of members of the Armed Forces to observe the
tenets of their respective religions. It is DoD policy that
requests for accommodation of religious practices should be
approved by commanders when accommodation will not have an
adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion,
standards, or discipline."
Department of Defense Directive
(DoDD) 1304.19, Appointment of Chaplains for the Military
11 June 2004
Continues the educational and ecclesiastical requirements
for appointing military
From Section 4:
It is DoD policy that the Chaplaincies of the Military
4.1. Are established to advise and assist commanders in the
discharge of their
responsibilities to provide for the free exercise of
religion in the context of military service as guaranteed by
the Constitution, to assist commanders in managing Religious
Affairs, and to serve as the principal advisors to
commanders for all issues regarding the impact of religion
on military operations...
Department of Defense Directive
(DoDD) 5100.73, Major DoD Headquarters Activities.
01 December 2007
Identifies major DoD activities.
Paragraph E3.2.26 defines a "DoD
wide functional area:"
"Religious Affairs. Management of religious affairs,
counseling, and related moral welfare activities."
Department of Defense Directive
(DoDD) 5500.7-R, The Joint Ethics Regulation.
Change 6, 23 March 2006
Governing document guiding ethics in the Defense Department.
Includes discussion on
endorsement, fundraising, preferential treatment, airline
upgrades, receiving money from outside agencies, political
activity, and other sometimes controversial topics.
General Order Number 1
04 April 2009
This document was signed by the Commander in Iraq.
However, there is very little variation in General Order
Number 1 throughout its history.
3.L. Prohibited Activities:
Proselytizing of any religion, faith, or practice.
Joint Publication (JP)
1-05, Religious Ministry Support for Joint Operations.
09 June 2004
Sets doctrine and guidance for US Armed Forces regarding
joint force religious support
"The First Amendment to the US
Constitution specifies that “Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the
free exercise thereof . . . .” This guarantee of the free
exercise of religion is codified for the Armed Forces in
Title 10, United States Code, sections 3073, 3547, 5142, and
8067, with the provision for the appointment of officers as
chaplains in the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The free
exercise of religion for military personnel is further
defined in additional sources, such as Department of Defense
Directive 1300.17. Military commanders are responsible to
provide for the free exercise of religion."
Instruction 36-2706, Military Equal Opportunity (MEO)
29 July 2004
Primary document guiding conduct and resolution of
discrimination or harassment.
Of note, from paragraph 1.1.1:
"The Air Force recognizes that all written or verbal
communications degrading individuals on the basis of race,
color, national origin, religion, or sex remain a form of
"Support of religious accommodation practices does not
necessarily reflect agreement or belief in such practices by
a commander, chaplain, unit or the Air Force."
Air Force Policy
Directive 52-1, Chaplain Service
02 October 2006 (Previous
Of note, from paragraph 3.4.2:
"Consistent with DoD and Air Force policy, chaplains adhere
to the requirements of their endorsing religious
organizations while providing for the spiritual and
religious needs of all Air Force members, their families,
and other authorized personnel."
Air Force Instruction
52-101, Chaplain Planning and Organizing
10 May 2005 (updated 14 March 2008)
18.104.22.168. Chaplains will conduct
services that are within the scope of their personal faith
tenets and religious convictions.
4.1. The privilege of total
confidentiality in communications with a chaplain is an
essential component of the chaplain’s ministry. Privileged
communication is protected communication...made either as a
formal act of religion or as a matter of conscience.
2006 Version (Rescinded by
Act of Congress)
Chief of Staff
28 June 2005
"The expression of personal preferences to subordinates,
especially in a professional setting or at mandatory events,
1730.1D, Religious Ministry in the Navy
06 May 2003
From (5) (e) on page 8:
"Commanders shall...Use all proper means to develop and
strengthen the spiritual well-being and operational
readiness of command personnel by providing for the
religious ministry requirements of service members, their
families, and other authorized personnel."
Religious Ministry within the Department of the Navy
06 February 2006 (Rescinded
Act of Congress)
From (6) (c) on page 5:
"Other than Divine/Religious services, religious elements
for a command function, absent extraordinary circumstances,
should be non-sectarian in nature."
Religious Ministry Support within the Department of the Navy
12 October 2000 (Reinstated by SECNAV in November 2006)
"Chaplains shall not be assigned collateral duties which
violate the religious practices of the chaplain’s faith
Army Regulation 165-1,
Chaplain Activities in the United States Army
25 March 2004
"The Army recognizes that
religion is constitutionally protected and does not favor
one form of religious expression over another. Accordingly,
all religious denominations are viewed as distinctive faith
groups and all soldiers are entitled to chaplain services
Army Regulation 600-20,
Army Command Policy
11 February 2009
Section 5-6 on
page 42, "Accommodating religious
practices," contains Army guidance on
religious exceptions, exemptions, and other
601-210, Active and Reserve Components Enlistment Program
07 June 2007
Page 40, 4-15:
"Conscientious objectors are persons who
profess conscientious objections or
religious convictions at time of application
for enlistment that would restrict
assignments and who desire to enlist as
Supreme Court and Judicial Decisions
While not all of these cases
directly deal with religion in the military,
each has contributed to the cultural and legal concepts
under which the military must deal with religion, balancing
the sometimes contradictory precepts of military members'
free exercise without breaching establishment issues.
Schempp, 17 June 1963
8-1 ruling that eliminated government-mandated Bible reading
in public schools.
Notably, the decision also
stated "There are certain practices, conceivably violative
of the Establishment Clause, the striking down of which
might seriously interfere with certain religious liberties
also protected by the First Amendment. Provisions for
churches and chaplains at military establishments for those
in the armed services may afford one such example."
Even the dissenting opinion noted that a lack of a
chaplaincy could violate a soldier's right to free exercise.
County v. ACLU, 3
Unusually worded decision defined the "endorsement test,"
which says an Establishment Clause violation is determined
by whether non-adherents "feel like 'outsiders' by
government recognition or accommodation of religion."
Laird, 18 December
1972 (DC Circuit Court)
Appellate court decision that ruled mandatory attendance of
religious services by cadets at the three US military
academies was unConstitutional.
Crowe v. Cobb County,
28 October 2008
Appellate court decision that upheld a lower court ruling
saying a Georgia Commission's practice of opening with
prayer was not unConstitutional. Notably, it said it
was not the government's place to "parse" the content of
Engel v. Vitale,
25 June 1962
5-2 ruling struck down New York law requiring officials to
start school day with prayer. One of the early cases in
which government religious activities were restricted.
Goldman v. Weinberger,
25 March 1986
5-4 decision stating that the
Air Force was not required to allow Jewish officers to wear
yarmulke. Congress addressed this by altering the law
allowing "neat and tidy" religious accoutrements (10
USC Sec 774).
Johnson v. Poway,
25 February 2010
District Court decision declaring that restricting
"Judeo-Christian viewpoint" while allowing others violated
the Establishment Clause. Also includes significant
citations of support for referencing God in government.
Katcoff v. Marsh,
1985, Second Circuit Court of Appeals
Held that the Army Chaplaincy did not violate the
Establishment Clause of the Constitution. It left open
the question about whether the Chaplaincy was necessary in
areas where military members had access to private sector
Lee v. Weisman,
24 June 1992
5-4 decision against graduation prayer. Notably, the
state can also not dictate the content of a prayer.
Often cited in reference to the military attempting to
"restrict" the content of a military Chaplain's prayers.
Donnelly, 5 March
5-4 ruling allowing Nativity display. Listed many
examples of our "Government's acknowledgment of our
religious heritage," including Congress' addition of the
words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance.
Chambers, 5 July 1983
6-3 vote permitted practice of beginning legislative session
with prayer given by a publicly funded chaplain.
Frequently cited in reference to military chaplains.
Rigdon v. Perry,
7 April 1997, District Court
Chaplains were explicitly allowed to encourage their
congregants to contact Congress; such actions were not
considered political lobbying, which was prohibited for
United States v. Seeger,
8 March 1965
Conscientious objectors and the necessity of a sincere
Jaffree, 4 June 1985
6-3 decision invalidated Alabama moment of silence statute.
Defense Authorization Act of
| House Version
House version stated, "Each chaplain shall have the
prerogative to pray according to the dictates of the
chaplain’s own conscience..." (p183). The
statement was removed in conference
"In God We Trust"
Coinage (US Treasury) |
National Motto (36 USC
Article VI No "religious test" is allowed for any public
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
Download copies of the
Constitution from the
Indexed version of Constitution available at Cornell
Declaration of Independence
"We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are
endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..."
"We, therefore, the
Representatives of the united States of America, in General
Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the
world for the rectitude of our intentions..."
"And for the support of this
Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of
Read and download at the
in the Military / "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
Title 10, Subtitle A, Part II, Chapter 37, § 654
Department of Defense Policy:
Enlisted Administrative Separations
("Don't Ask, Don't Tell")
ADF Letter (Concern
for Chaplains & Morality)
Complaints and Public Actions
Pentagon/Christian Embassy Controversy
(Weinstein) | IG
Task Force Patriot "Salute to Heroes"
Complaint (AU) | Defense
Department of Defense
Atheist Harassment Suit Against DoD (Hall v. Welborne)
Press Release |
Law | Dismissal
Atheist Harassment Suit Against
DoD (Chalker v. Gates)
Motion to Dismiss |
Air Force Academy Religious
Yale Report |
Report | Lawsuit |
"The HQ USAF team found a
religious climate that does not involve overt religious
discrimination, but a failure to fully accommodate all
members’ needs and a lack of awareness over where the line
is drawn between permissible and impermissible expression of
National Day of Prayer
US Law 36 USC Sec
Lawsuit Ruling NDoP Unconstitutional
"The President shall issue each
year a proclamation..."
Religious Freedom Day
US Law 36 USC Sec 119 |
RFD Guide |
"The President shall issue each year a proclamation..."
Public Expression of Religion
HR 2679 (2006)
Sought to prevent organizations from gaining attorneys' fees
when they sued a government organization for allegations of
As much of the religion
in the military often becomes a church/state debate (which
is inherently a political issue), it is worth noting the
military guidelines regarding political activities as a
Air Force: AFI 51-902
Department of Defense:
occasionally write papers as part of their Professional
Military Education (PME). These papers are their own work,
and do not dictate nor guide military policy. They can
sometimes make for a fascinating read, however.
Implications of American Millennialism"
Brian L. Stuckert, Maj, US Army
"Constructing Religious Empathy in the US
Jess W. Drab, Major, USAF (2008)
Greatest Threat...Spiritual Decay"
R.L. VanAntwerp, LtCol, US Army