Hagel questioned about Defense Department’s treatment of Christians in military

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel found himself being peppered with questions about his department’s attitude toward Christianity and religious freedom in the military during testimony Thursday on Capitol Hill.

Under questioning during a House Armed Services Committee hearing, Hagel was asked by Rep. Randy Forbes, a Virginia Republican, about a number of reported stories of concern to Christians and religious freedom advocates.

Forbes asked Hagel about an order issued that commanders can no longer inform their command of approved programs in the chaplain’s office.

Forbes also made reference to a report that an Air Force patch logo was removed because it referenced “God,” and another that the Department of the Navy was prohibiting Bibles from being used in Walter Reed hospital.

He also inquired about a training program where evangelical Christians, Catholics and Mormons were listed in the same category of religious extremism as al-Qaida.

Forbes also asked why service members were allowed to march in uniform in a San Diego gay pride parade, a political event.

In response to the questions, Hagel — who took over the department in February — said he was unable to answer those questions immediately.

“I don’t know about all the specifics of the information you presented,” Hagel told Forbes. “I will get it. And I will find out about it.”

Forbes went on to ask Hagel if he supported section 533 of last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which included a conscience protection clause that Forbes says protects religious freedom in the military.

“I haven’t seen it,” Hagel said, though adding: “Protection of religious rights is pretty fundamental to this country.”

Forbes ended his questioning by saying, “I just can’t understand why the department is issuing orders prohibiting people in the chain of command from talking about chaplain’s programs supporting faith, but they’re not prohibiting people in the chain of command from making anti-faith statements and doing anti-faith training?”

“Well, that should not be happening,” Hagel responded.

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