When Donald Trump signed a “religious freedom” executive order yesterday, there was a lot of chatter over its impact. The ACLU decided not to file a lawsuit over it because they said it was nothing more than an “elaborate photo-op.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation did sue, saying that Trump’s stated goal of letting churches endorse candidates from the pulpit discriminated against atheist groups like their own.
But what didn’t make a lot of headlines was one of Trump’s examples of why this executive order was supposedly necessary. (It’s at the 28:21 mark below.)
… As just one example, people were forbidden from giving or receiving religious items at a military hospital where our brave service members were being treated, and when they wanted those religious items.
These were great, great people. These are great soldiers. They wanted those items. They were precluded from getting them…
You can see Mike Pence and Trump’s religious adviser Paula White nodding as he tells that story. White even mouths the words “That’s right.”
But military leaders had a different reaction: What the hell is this guy talking about?
Pentagon officials are adamant there is no policy that prohibits members of the military from receiving religious items at military installations.
Indeed, service members have the option of declaring their faith in their personnel records so chaplains of that religion can ensure they get whatever religious items or services they wish.
It’s possible that Trump just bought into the Religious Right’s misguided hysteria over a policy changed that occurred at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in 2011. At the time, there were chaplains entering rooms to pray with soldiers and handing out Bibles even when the patients didn’t want them there. The policy change put an end to unwanted proselytizing by saying “No religious items (i.e. Bibles, reading material, and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit.”
Fox News propagandist Todd Starnes, who routinely exaggerates news stories to highlight “Christian Persecution,” was among the conservatives who wrongly interpreted that reasonable policy change as an attack on his faith. It didn’t ban religious items at all; it was only meant to prevent Christian ministers from giving Bibles to, say, Muslim and atheist soldiers who never requested them.
In any case, after the Religious Right whined, and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) spoke on the House floor about this supposedly anti-Christian rule change, the folks at Walter Reed revised the policy to remove any ambiguity about what they meant.
The policy itself didn’t change; the wording just became more clear. But at no time in the course of this controversy were Christian soldiers prevented from receiving religious items or the comfort of a chaplain.
Not that Donald Trump understands any of that.
The Conspiracist in Chief just regurgitated the Religious Right’s story with no regard for what actually happened.
And then he passed an executive order to prevent the thing that never happened from ever happening.
(Thanks to Matt for the link)