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Public Statements

Letter to Secretary Hagel - Military Conscience Protections

U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today led a group of 10 senators in writing a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel seeking an update on implementation of religious conscience protections for military personnel.

Wicker successfully included a provision in this year's "National Defense Authorization Act" (NDAA) to provide service members with "freedom of conscience" protections. The provision also charges the Department of Defense with issuing regulations to implement those protections.

In the letter, the senators wrote, "Our service members already have to cope with various challenges as a result of recent defense budget cuts. We hope you would agree that the Department's focus should be on advancing the best interests and preserving the morale of our brave service members and military chaplains, and that such efforts must include protecting service members' constitutionally guaranteed right of religious expression."

The senators specifically requested Secretary Hagel to detail the Pentagon's "plan and timetable for steps that the Department intends to take, including a list of organizations with whom the Department has consulted, or intends to consult in the future, in developing regulations to implement this section of the law."

Below is the full text of the letter.

May 20, 2013

The Honorable Charles Hagel
Secretary of Defense
Office of the Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301-1000

Dear Secretary Hagel:

We appreciate that your leadership as Secretary of Defense is vital to protecting the constitutionally guaranteed right of religious freedom for our service members and military chaplains. As Members of Congress with an interest in this issue, we write to request an update on your efforts to implement Section 533 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2013.

As you noted during your testimony last month before the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, the "protection of religious freedom is pretty fundamental to this country." Our Founding Fathers, who discussed at length the significance of "freedom of conscience" and its underpinning of all other freedoms, embraced a similar view. In passing religious conscience protections for service members in Section 533 of the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress confirmed the importance of guaranteeing that service members are afforded the same constitutional rights they fight to protect.

Under Section 533, the Department of Defense is charged with issuing regulations that would implement the conscience protections recently passed by Congress. We would be gravely concerned if third parties who are focused on obstructing religious freedom in the military were afforded the opportunity to influence the Department's efforts to carry out this statutory language, which was enacted for the express purpose of protecting the conscience rights of all service members.

We also would be concerned if Pentagon leaders permitted other activities, such as efforts to encourage service members to retire or resign due to their beliefs, or the adoption of policies that could impinge on the religious freedom of our nation's servicemen and servicewomen. Our armed services were created with an apolitical framework, and this unique platform has helped maintain Americans' trust and respect for the military.

Our service members already have to cope with various challenges as a result of recent defense budget cuts. We hope you would agree that the Department's focus should be on advancing the best interests and preserving the morale of our brave service members and military chaplains, and that such efforts must include protecting service members' constitutionally guaranteed right of religious expression.

We look forward to hearing more from you concerning your recent efforts to implement Section 533 of the NDAA. We request that you provide us with a plan and timetable for steps that the Department intends to take, including a list of organizations with whom the Department has consulted, or intends to consult in the future, in developing regulations to implement this section of the law. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)
Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)
Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.)
Senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.)
Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas)
Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.)
Senator Mike Johanns (R-Neb.)
Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.)
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)
Senator David Vitter (R-La.)


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