The U.S. Department of Defense issued a new guidance decree on September 1st with the intent of supporting President Donald Trump's 2017 executive order on freedom of speech and religion.
The guidance, Instruction 1300.17 established "DoD policy in furtherance of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment" and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The policy would require Defense Department officials to "oversee the development and provision of education and training on the policies and procedures pertaining to the accommodation of religious practices of Service members" for higher ranking officers.
Essentially, the directive would allow that "Service members have the right to observe the tenets of their religion or to observe no religion at all." Additionally, it would prohibit service members from requiring chaplains to "perform any rite, ritual, or ceremony that is contrary to the conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the chaplain." The document also outlines the responsibilities of DoD officials in assuring that guidances are followed.
This new instruction has been both praised and critiqued by religious freedom advocates. Mike Berry, deputy general general counsel for the law firm First Liberty Institute stated that the issues addressed in the directive are exactly "the concerns that First Liberty Institute has been raising for a number of years." Berry would go on to mention, "It's really a breath of fresh air to see the Department of Defense, first of all, applying federal law, applying the Constitution and following the President's executive order on free speech and religious liberty and applying that to the military. And this is something that First Liberty and many others have been asking for. So we are very pleased to see this happen."
However, contrary to Berry, Mikey Weinstein founder of MRFF argued, "In recent years, this 1993 Act has become the go-to law for fundamentalist Christian legal organizations in their ignoble and wholly reprehensible defense of completely unconstitutional promotions of uber-conservative Christianity in the United States armed forces. This law is the sick epitome of the right-wing Christians' tortured view of the First Amendment's religion clauses as creating only a one-way wall - in other words, that that the 'Free Exercise' clause of the First Amendment is THE only religion clause that matters, and that the other direction of the wall, the 'No Establishment' clause, simply doesn't even exist. Such a preposterous position is utterly bereft of any semblance of Constitutional legality and allowance."