No Evangelizing At Recruiting Sites
December 28, 2008McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
The Pentagon is cracking down on evangelizing at its national network of recruit processing centers, telling religious groups that it won't permit proselytizing at the sites.
A new regulation quietly distributed last month to commanders of the 65 centers says that religious literature and publications produced by other "non-federal entities" may be made available to recruits at the sites but that they cannot show favoritism to any particular faith or group.
"Under no circumstances " will any outsiders "be permitted to proselytize, preach or provide spiritual counseling" to recruits or staff members at the centers, the regulation adds.
Also barred are publications that "create the reasonable impression that the government is sponsoring, endorsing or inhibiting religion generally," as well as secular publications such as "sales flyers or commercial advertising."
The action comes amid complaints from civil liberties groups that some ministries have targeted the centers for their evangelizing and on occasion have tried to gain an advantage among recruits by tying themselves to the military. The civil libertarians argue that such church-state ties are barred by the U.S. Constitution but that some evangelicals routinely try to skirt the rules.
The centers run by the Military Entrance Processing Command are the last stop for recruits on their way to basic training. The newcomers get a final physical exam and take the oath of office as members of the armed forces. Recruits from Hampton Roads typically go through the center at Fort Lee, near Petersburg.
Jeremy Gunn, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer whose warnings to the military apparently sparked adoption of the new rules, said a recruit at the Louisville, Ky., processing center complained about being approached by a representative of The Gideons International, a group best known for providing Bibles in hotel rooms around the world.
The ACLU subsequently learned about evangelizing activities at as many as 10 other centers, including some in which recruits were handed religious tracts during their processing "as if it were part of official, military-sanctioned procedure," Gunn said.
In at least one case, copies of the New Testament were distributed with khaki covers, suggesting the book was a military publication, he added.
The Gideons organization provides copies of the New Testament for distribution at the Fort Lee center, its commander, Army Maj. Carl Faison, confirmed Tuesday.
But the group has never sought anything more than making its materials available, Faison said, and gets no more access than he would provide to any outside group that requested it. So far, only the Gideons group has asked for permission to distribute literature at the Fort Lee center, he added.
Steve Smith, a Gideons spokesman, confirmed that the group routinely distributes Bibles and copies of the New Testament at the recruit processing sites. He declined to comment on the new Defense Department rules but said Gideons don't engage in proselytizing.
The Gideons' activities are "part of a broader pattern within the military, of allowing outside groups easier access to evangelize," said Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a group that monitors religion in government.
Other religious groups have been active at processing centers. Until last spring, when he got word that the military was reviewing its policies on activity by outsiders, Army veteran and former police officer Tim Sherman was making weekly trips from his Minnesota home to the center in Fargo, N.D., to speak and distribute religious literature to new recruits.
He'd resume the Fargo trips if invited, Sherman said, and would have no objection if other groups, religious or secular, also sought to distribute material to the recruits.
Sherman is director of "In PURSUIT," a group described on its Web site as providing "biblical chaplains" to police, fire departments, emergency medical service workers and the military. The Web site indicates other members of the ministry have been active at other recruit processing centers.
Laurel Williams, a Florida lawyer and major in the Army reserve, said she stumbled into In PURSUIT earlier this year while doing online research on invocations at military ceremonies. She was shocked to find a photo of Sherman wearing camouflage fatigues during a visit to the Los Angeles processing center, she said.
"I find this very disturbing. In my view these people are impersonating military officers," Williams said. She turned her research over to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a group in New Mexico that has sued the military several times to challenge what it says are improper ties between evangelicals and some commands.
"It's not possible to regulate this stuff," said Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force academy graduate who started the foundation. The Obama administration should simply ban distribution of any religious materials at the processing centers, he said.

Weinstein's son was a cadet at the USAF Academy and was hounded by fellow cadets who made it their mission to go after other cadets who were not "christian" or right wing religious zelots.
Do you think this is just the tip of the iceberg or should it be taken further?

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I remember at MEPs (in Memphis, TN) right before we were given our orders to boot camp we were all put into a classroom to fill out final paperwork. Right after that was completed that had some Gideons people go in there with New Testament Bibles. They didn't say we had to take them, we just had the option to take one from them as we walked out. I didn't think anything of it at the time, however it did appear to give them at least some officialness by allowing them into the MEPs station (you've got to get a special pass which is difficult if you don't have a work related reason to be there). I don't think it would be as bad if they handed out literature from the many prominent religious factions, but temporarily halting the shipping process to hand out only Christian Bibles does seem like church and state are getting a bit too cozy.

I think it would be easiest to ban having religious materials in MEPs centers beyond perhaps giving future recruits a chance to peruse a table with religious literature of different faith groups.
The Indianapolis MEPS was very similar only they had a Chaplain passing them out with a couple other officers next to him. Also, while in bootcamp they had bibles in the recruit px to buy.
Oh yeah, they liked to charge at least $10 more for the 'Marine Bible' or the 'Navy Bible' and the only difference it had was that the service's symbol was embossed on the cover, and it may have had the service's song printed on the inside. Other than that it was just a regular Bible. A ripoff of gullible recruits if you ask me!
I had a similar experience at MEPs. An older gent in a suit was passing out New Testament bibles. He placed it in my hand before I knew what it was, and wouldn't take it back so I threw it in the trash right next to him. I didn't feel that it was rude because I gave him the chance to take it back. Other recruits in the group were not of the same mind!
Good job! It's nice to know a few people out their aren't afraid to hurt some feelings in support of their nonfaith. When I deployed, we had a mandatory stop in the outprocessing/inprocessing center to see a Christian chaplain. My battalion also has Christian prayer by the chaplain before the battalion run once a month, and in a lot of their other ceremonies.
Hardcore Dunn stickin to your guns as it were! I remember my D.I. grabbing a handful of new testament bibles that were not secured and slinging them down the squad bay, he just didnt give a shit!! Religious recruits never had a question about whose law reigned in our plt.
Good on ya!
Times have changed.
When I was in Basic at fun sunny sandy Ft. Dix, we got a presentation by one of the chaplains. Wasn’t anything big. He actually gave a talk about dealing with stress and relaxing. Well, I already knew how to relax. So, I got up and went outside. There were several others out there. Most were smoking and shoot the breeze.
If you wanted to attend services on Sunday you could. I just stayed in and did cleaning, wrote letters, used the phone.
At OCS, the Chaplin (was a female and prior service) she was cool. Not pushy. There were two assigned to the brigade. They also served the jump school chapel. They talked about what was available and how the service did encourage it’s soldiers to attend services. No big deal.
Some went to church services. Yes you did have one or two in the class who were hard charging never give an inch bible pounding you can‘t reason with yahoos. I’ll leave it at that.
But religion was forced upon us.
On my two deployments, well the last person you see is the Chaplain. You get you bibles, Korans, beads, crosses et from them.
The last time I got deployed was for the Bosnia mission. My unit was a three person unit. Yup, three people. I was the NCOIC. We all got a few minutes with the chaplain. Now, I’m deploying. I’ve got to be at Benning in less then a week. I’ve got to get my unit out the door. I was the only one in the unit who’d ever been deployed.
We were also going through an MTOE change. I was dealing with FORCE Com in Atlanta, Ft. Leavenworth, and the Center of Military History. By the way, did I mention I was the least paid of all three? My CO was a Major and my troop was a brand new E-5. That’s for another time…
Anyway, it was my time with the Chaplain.
I realized that the guy was trying to be helpful. But I had things to do. So I just let him talk. Now wasn’t the time for a religious debate. So we talked for a few minutes then he offered up a prayer. I just bowed my head and let him go. He asked me if there was anything I needed and I said “no” but I did have to look after all two of my troops (CO and troop) so I asked if he could get them a couple of soldier bibles (there everywhere) and some rosary’s. Just some things they would appreciate. He said he’d try. I shook his hand was out the door.
But things change. I’ve seen it in the Guard. There are the bible hounds there.
One of the things though is that I try and learn about the people in my unit. And let me tall ya…. When you know more about the people in your unit then the 1st Sgt or the acting 1st Sgt, it’s really really odd.
Had one 1st Sgt in the Guard who was a former party boy. Booze and drugs. Well, he traded the booze and drugs for “God” and to be honest with you, he was still an addict.
Not a drug addict.
But a “God” addict.
Just as bad, if not worse. Even his family suffered from it and financially too. I told him about tours the Guard needed filled. I’m no saint, but it gave him work. His family got out of debt. Eventually he left the unit.
It’s sad when you see that. A person with an addictive personality who trades one addiction for another. In this case, it was religion.
But I always tell people, when you’re deploying the last person you’ll see is the Chaplain.

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