Misguided Military Maneuver: Army’s ‘Spiritual Fitness’ Program Improperly Proselytizes

Some U.S. military leaders just can’t seem to respect the religious liberty rights of American service personnel.

The Army is now investigating an incident at a Virginia military base where soldiers were apparently punished for declining to attend a Christian rock concert. Personnel who skipped the evangelical Christian rally were reportedly ordered to return to their barracks and conduct maintenance activities.

According to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the “BarlowGirl” concert at Fort Eustis was part of something called the Commanding General’s “Spiritual Fitness Concert Series,” a project undertaken by Maj. Gen. James E. Chambers. While the series was billed as encompassing a wide variety of faith perspectives, so far only evangelical Christian acts have been booked.

As MRFF’s Chris Rodda noted, “’[S]piritual fitness’ is just the military's new term for promoting religion, particularly evangelical Christianity. And this concert series is no different.”

Soldiers who declined to attend BarlowGirl’s performance complained to MRFF.

One said, “"Those of us that chose not to attend (about 80, or a little less than half) were marched back to the company area. At that point the NCO issued us a punishment. We were to be on lock-down in the company (not released from duty), could not go anywhere on post (no PX, no library, etc). We were to go strictly to the barracks and contact maintenance. If we were caught sitting in our rooms, in our beds, or having/handling electronics (cell phones, laptops, games) and doing anything other than maintenance, we would further have our weekend passes revoked and continue barracks maintenance for the entirety of the weekend. At that point the implied message was clear in my mind 'we gave you a choice to either satisfy us or disappoint us. Since you chose to disappoint us you will now have your freedoms suspended and contact chores while the rest of your buddies are enjoying a concert.'”

The soldier told MRFF that the dissenters included Catholics, Muslims and others who just didn’t think it was proper for the military to bring this kind of religious pressure. They have complained to their superiors about the incident.

Said Rodda, “Another problem with these concerts, besides the issues like soldiers being punished for choosing not to attend them, is that they are run by the commanders, and not the chaplains' offices. It is absolutely permissible for a chaplain's office to put on a Christian concert. It is not permissible for the command to put on a Christian concert, or any other religious event. Having a religious concert series that is actually called and promoted as a Commanding General's Concert Series is completely over the top.”

The Pentagon seems to recognize that there’s a problem.

Army spokesman Col. Thomas Collins told the AP, "If something like that were to have happened, it would be contrary to Army policy."

I would hope so. It is an outrage for American military brass to impose religion on our troops. Commanders should be defending the Constitution, not undermining it. Americans come in all religious perspectives, and so do our military personnel. Ensure soldiers’ right to worship as they choose (or not to worship at all), but don’t use official channels to push a specific faith.

The MRFF and Americans United have repeatedly challenged improper proselytizing in the military. It is way past time for it to stop.