Members of a House subcommittee on Tuesday pressed a senior Pentagon official and several chaplains over alleged disciplinary actions against Christians for expressing their faith in Jesus Christ.
"We know of instances where Christians have been reprimanded for statements as simple as that," Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., told Virginia Penrod, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy. "Are you saying that you know there are no other instances of other people being reprimanded?"
"I don't know of instances of any faith -- If you do have examples, the Department will be more than willing to look into these," Penrod said. Her claim was backed up by Rear Adm. Mark L. Tidd, the Navy's chief of chaplains, Brig. Gen. Charles R. Bailey, deputy chief of chaplains for the Army, and Brig. Gen. Bobby Page, deputy chief of chaplains for the Air Force.
The subcommittee on military personnel held the hearing to consider the DoD's policy on religious accommodation. The law mandates that servicemembers be able to practice their faith, or observe no faith, without interference or pressure.
Over the past dozen years there have been increasing complaints of bias, though those substantiated by the various services and the Pentagon have been cases of officials using their authority or influence to promote Christianity.
These include a series of incidents at the Air Force Academy and also at the Pentagon, itself, where senior military officials appeared in uniform for a promotional video for Christian Embassy, an evangelical organization.
In one case, a Navy chaplain was fined and reprimanded by the Navy after he appeared in uniform at a protest in front of the White House.
Navy Lt. Gordon J. Klingenschmitt ultimately was ultimately released from the Navy with an honorable discharge.
Lawmakers insisted on Tuesday, however, that Christian troops and chaplains have regularly been punished for simply expressing their faith.
Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said a website called "Clear and Present Danger," sponsored by the Colorado-based Family Research Council, maintains a lengthy list of incidents of anti-Christian incidents in the military.
"I'm disappointed that we don't have General Boykin and others who can actually tell us about this [problem]," said Fleming, referring to now retired Army Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, who created a crisis for the Bush Administration in 2003 by framing the war on terror as a religious war, of Christians against Muslims.
While lawmakers repeatedly expressed concern for reported bias against Christians, Army Maj. Kamal S. Kalsi stood out among observers at the hearing, with his full beard, camouflage BDUs, and matching turban.
Kalsi, currently assigned to Fort Bragg, N.C., is one of only three Sikhs currently serving in the Army.
Under current policy, he could be forced to choose between faith and military service at any time if the commander at a duty station to which he is assigned decides the beard, turban or any other article of the Sikh faith is a problem.
Until the Pentagon makes a final decision and accepts the articles of faith that go with being a Sikh, members of that religion will serve at the discretion of their commander.
Kalsi said Sikhs are now going through what women and African-Americans previously went through in the fight to be recognized and to fully serve.
At the same time he said he understood the congressmen's concern with looking out for members of their faith.
"I think that's a legitimate concern. I think that every religion should be respected. I support concerns from every religious group about wanting to practice their faith freely, including Christian groups," Kalsi said.