The Pentagon has decided to crack down on proselytizing by the Gideons at the nation’s network of recruit processing centers.
The new regulations were issued in November but came to light in December. They state that “under no circumstances” will outside groups “be permitted to proselytize, preach or provide spiritual counseling” to incoming personnel at Military Entrance Processing Stations.
The stations are the final stop military recruits make before heading out for basic training. In the facilities, recruits are given a final physical exam and take an armed services oath. There are 65 such centers around the country.
At some of the centers, recruits were being approached by the Gideons and given Bibles and materials reflecting evangelical Christian tenets. Last year, a recruit in Kentucky complained to the American Civil Liberties Union about being approached by the group. The ACLU subsequently learned of evangelizing activities in 10 centers.
Jeremy Gunn, an ACLU official in Washington, said some recruits were given religious tracts and New Testaments with khaki covers “as if it were part of official, military-sanctioned procedure.”
A Gideons representative told the Virginian-Pilot that the group has made Bibles available at centers but insisted this was not proselytism.
Critics begged to differ. The Gideons’ activities, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told the newspaper, are just “part of a broader pattern within the military, of allowing outside groups easier access to evangelize.”
The Gideons were not the only evangelical group active at the centers. An organization called In PURSUIT was also engaged in “military outreach” at these facilities. According to the organization’s Web site, its members are “biblical chaplains” who provide copies of the New Testament to “any soldier who requests one.”
Group leader Tim Sherman wears camouflage fatigues when handing out Bibles and speaking to recruits, even though he is not in the military.