New Accusations Surface Against U.S. Military Proselytizing

May 5, 2009

Author: Nicole Neroulias

Source: Religion News Service

A watchdog group that monitors inappropriate proselytizing in the military has renewed calls for a Pentagon probe after a recent Al Jazeera English news segment showed U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan preparing to distribute Bibles printed in the Pashto and Dari languages.

"These inciteful actions are grossly offensive to not only Muslims in Afghanistan and across the world, but to all those who hold faith in the U.S. Constitution," said Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force veteran who launched the Military Religious Freedom Foundation four years ago.

"The United States armed forces are not on a mission to impose a Christian God on those who believe in Muhammad."

Military guidelines prohibit proselytizing, but numerous accusations have surfaced in both Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003, chronicled in a recent cover story in Harper's Magazine. Army officers have denied approving or encouraging the practice, noting the Al Jazeera English footage was a year old, and said the Bibles had been confiscated before they could be distributed.

Nevertheless, former Afghan prime minister Ahmed Shah Ahmedzai has called for an inquiry into chaplain practices, along with Weinstein's ongoing demands for federal probes into alleged incidents of religious coercion and discrimination in the armed forces.

Although the Pentagon reports fewer than 100 complaints have been filed regarding religious discrimination in the military since 2005, Weinstein said more than 11,000 service members and families -- predominantly Christian -- have contacted him for help.