Navy Investigates Complaints Of Christian Evangelizing In Military Hospital

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
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The U.S Navy is investigating complaints that sailors allegedly used a Bible display to illegally evangelize Japanese locals in an Okinawa military hospital.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit organization former Air Force officer Michael Weinstein founded, filed the complaint with Rear Admiral Paul Pearigen, commander of Navy Medicine West, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. Navy Medicine West is the largest Navy healthcare system in the Western Pacific region. The complaint alleges military leaders placed a Bible and a placard on a Prisoner of War/Missing in Action display in U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa’s public gallery on March 26. The placard allegedly had English and Japanese text that promoted the Bible as a symbol of strength and faith, according to Newsmax.

The Bible “represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded one nation under God,” the placard allegedly displayed.

MREF attorney Donald Rehkopf Jr. described the placard as unconstitutional and claimed its placement was an act of extremism.

“The statement on the exhibit’s placard is nothing more than an illegal, unconstitutional proselytization from an extremist, fundamentalist Christian sect,” Rehkopf wrote in the organization’s complaint. “It ignores all followers of other religions and totally ignores all those who subscribe to no religion — all in blatant violation of (Department of Defense) and (Department of the Navy) regulations.”

The Bible is actually included in traditional POW/MIA tables set in honor of captured and missing soldiers at military balls, chow halls and veterans associations, according to Navy Live, the official blog of the U.S. Navy.

“The Bible represents faith in a higher power and the pledge to our country, founded as one nation under God,” the website references of the Bible’s significance in the display.

Rehkopf filed the complaint on behalf of 26 service members and Department of Defense civilian employees. Sixteen of the 26 petitioners are Christian, while the other 10 are a mix of Native American, Buddhists, Shintoists, Jews, atheists and agnostics, Weinstein claimed.

“We are investigating the matter now” and there would be “more information to follow,” Navy Medicine West paralegal David Ostrander wrote in an email to Rehkopf in response to the complaint.

Weinstein reached out to the hospital in question at the beginning of the first week in April; but when the hospital failed to correct the perceived problem, he filed the complaint, the former Air Force officer told the San Diego Union-Tribune

“We reached out initially to the hospital at the beginning of the week, but they didn’t take care of this. This should’ve been simple. We’ve engaged many times on this issue everywhere, and it’s taken care of quickly. Here, they translated a phrase into Japanese in order to proselytize the Japanese,” Weinstein told the Tribune. “This might’ve violated our treaty with Japan.”

Weinstein initially demanded the hospital remove the placard — specifically because of “one nation under God” –remove the Bible, and conduct an investigation into their placement and discipline those responsible.

While Weinstein ostensibly campaigns for religious freedom, the banner for his organization’s website prominently displays a quote attributed to him, which advertises:

“When one proudly dons a U.S. military uniform, there is only one religious symbol: The American flag. There is only one religious scripture: The American constitution. Finally there is only one religious faith: American patriotism.”

The investigation into MRFF’s complaint is ongoing.

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