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Public Statements

Religious Freedom in the Military

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mrs. HARTZLER. Mr. Speaker and my fellow colleagues, I wanted to share with you a picture that I have in my office, and it is my favorite picture. It is the famous picture of President and then-General George Washington on his knees praying at Valley Forge.

Of course, we all remember from our history lessons the story of what happened during that time. But the winter at Valley Forge was a terribly, terribly trying time for the Continental Army. They had suffered a lot of defeats that fall, and they went into a very cold, harsh winter with very, very limited supplies, and the stories that come from that are just heartbreaking.

There were 12,000 men that were encamped. Many of them did not even have a tent or a shelter. Several of them did not even have a blanket. And as you know, here in Washington, D.C., and back home in Missouri, the weather has started to turn cold. I think it was about 30 degrees this morning. And to think about what it would have been like to have to sleep out in the cold with no blanket during that time. And of course, snow came along.

We have heard stories about how many of the men did not even have shoes. They had marched so much that fall and had gone through such harsh battles that their shoes had fallen apart. And we have all seen pictures and heard stories of how their feet bled. Even in the snow, there were foot tracks like that. And what is worse, many of them didn't even have food.

This was the situation of 12,000 men. The conditions were so bad that they ruled at one time that a third of them, almost 4,000 men, were unfit for battle. And then 2,000, over the course of those winter months, died as a result of disease and dysentery and other things that occurred during those very harsh conditions.

And during that time, we have learned a story that George Washington, the commander of this ragtag but yet valiant group of men, went to the woods and got down on his knees and prayed. And the reason we know this is because of the story of Isaac Potts who later shared the account that was later recorded.

He was a local Quaker farmer. He was riding his horse through the woods, and he heard a sound that was strange, as if a man was crying out in plaintiff prayer. So he quietly got off his horse and wrapped the reins around a sapling tree, snuck through the woods to get closer, and as came into an opening, he could see something that shocked him.

He said it like this:

I saw the great George Washington on his knees, alone, with a sword on one side and his cocked hat on the other. He was at prayer to the God of the Armies, beseeching to interpose with his Divine aid.

We know what happened later--and, I believe, as a result of those prayers. That ragtag group of army over the winter gained courage and strength. Supplies started to come in. General Baron Von Steuben was sent by Benjamin Franklin from the Prussian Army to start drilling the men and turn this ragtag but courageous group into a major, strong fighting force, and they came out that next spring a force ready to meet the British Army, and they did.

That was a turning point in the war. It wasn't to be decided for years to come, but at Valley Forge the whole outcome of not just the war, but of our country, was turned, and I believe it was because of the prayer of the general of the Army.

Faith has been important to the armed services and to the people of this country from the beginning, and it is just as important now to our men and women in uniform as it was back at the beginning of our country. Yet their ability to express their religious beliefs is being attacked from forces outside and forces within.

It has been discouraging the last few years to hear accounts of some of these infringements on the basic religious rights and freedoms of our men and women in uniform. So that is why my colleagues and I are here for the next hour. We are here to, first of all, stand up for the religious rights and freedoms that are guaranteed in our Constitution.

I think it is very fitting and appropriate to remember that George Washington was there and helped craft that Bill of Rights, and what is the first right? The freedom of expression of religion.

We want to not only celebrate that and stand up for that but to also raise awareness of the concerns that we have and to implore the Department of Defense to push back on some of the negative policies that have been coming out that infringe on their rights, and to change course and to continue to remain strong as a country, preserving those basic freedoms so that we can continue to be strong in the future as we have in the past.

So now I want to invite someone who knows from very personal experience and can speak to this issue, my friend from Georgia, Representative Doug Collins, who is still an active member of the Air Force Reserves, not only serving his country in many ways, but also serving his God by being a chaplain.

Representative Collins, I would like to hear what you have to say about this very important issue.


Mrs. HARTZLER. Thank you very much, Representative Collins. Well said.

The oath that you talked about, I want to expound on it a little bit so people understood that what Mikey Weinstein did has had an effect. The Air Force Academy actually removed a poster portraying the words of the Academy oath, and the committee is considered removing the phrase ``so help me God'' from the honor oath recited by all incoming cadets.

This is the same oath. Let me read it. This is the oath that every cadet gives when they come into the Air Force Academy. It is also the same oath of office for officers and the same oath that Members of Congress say. This is what they want to remove the ``so help me God'' from:

Having been appointed as an Air Force Cadet in the United States Air Force, do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office of which I am about to enter. So help me God.

It is a time-honored oath.

This is a serious decision to enter the service of the country, whether it is in the military or whether it is as a Member of Congress, and to have them question whether we should remove that or not is despicable.

Now I would like to turn to a champion on these issues, and that is my friend from Colorado, Representative Doug Lamborn. I appreciate the letters that he has authored to push back on many of these attacks on our religious freedoms.

Representative Lamborn.


Mrs. HARTZLER. Thank you, Representative Lamborn. That was very good. I appreciate the summary of some of the concerns that we had of the pattern that has developed of the intolerance in the military of religious expression. So thank you for your leadership on that.

I would now like to turn to my friend from Texas, Representative Roger Williams.


Mrs. HARTZLER. Thank you so much, Representative Williams. Well said. I appreciate it very much.

Now I would like to yield to a real leader on this, one who has been at the forefront of ensuring that our men and women in uniform are not discriminated against based on their religious beliefs. He was the author of the amendment of the National Defense Authorization Act last year and this year, an amendment which protects those freedoms. I would now like to turn to John Fleming from Louisiana.


Mrs. HARTZLER. Thank you so much Representative Fleming. Your leadership has really made a difference and appreciate your comments.

I know another colleague from Texas who is a captain in the Army probably has a few things to share about this so I would like to hear from my friend Louie Gohmert.


Mrs. HARTZLER. Thank you. I really appreciate you bringing your Bible and sharing that story. I think that really brings home how things have changed and how we need to go back to having an administration and a Department of Defense that protects and preserves and promotes the exercise of religion among our troops for the protection and blessing of not only them, but our country.

Now I would like to turn to my friend from Illinois, just a little ways to the east here, Randy Hultgren, to share on this important topic.


Mrs. HARTZLER. Thank you, Congressman Hultgren.

I think that is a very good point--that we should defend their rights as they are defending us.

I am looking forward and very much appreciate my colleague from Michigan, who is here tonight as well, because he has put his life on the line, starting after high school, going to serve in Vietnam--I believe you were an infantry rifleman to start off with--and then ended up all the way serving with the military police over in Iraq.

First of all, thank you for your service. Thank you for what you are doing to defend freedoms even today as we talk about this important issue. So I yield time to you.


Mrs. HARTZLER. Thank you.

We have another friend from California here, Representative Doug LaMalfa. We are so glad that he is here, and I want to yield time to you to hear what your thoughts are on this very important topic of religious freedom in our military.


Mrs. HARTZLER. I thank you for your kind words expressing how important it is we stand strong for our military. We want our military to be strong, and their ability to be able to pray and hold on to their faith, to express their faith is what makes them strong. It is part of it, so we don't want to undermine that. Thank you for those words.

Now I turn to the gentleman from Mississippi (Mr. Nunnelee), from Mississippi's First District, to hear his thoughts on this and thank him for his letter that he authored to the Secretary of the Army that got a very positive response. So thank for your leadership.


Mrs. HARTZLER. Thank you very much for your leadership, and for bringing up those excellent points.

Now I would like to turn to the gentleman from Kansas (Mr. Huelskamp) to share his thoughts on this important topic, the military and religions freedom.


Mrs. HARTZLER. Thank you very much. We started off with a poster of George Washington praying at Valley Forge. We have come a long ways in this country. You have heard the stories tonight of how that freedom to express religion is under attack. It is time for the pattern of intimidation and intolerance and coercion to stop. It is time to preserve and defend religious freedom to keep America strong and keep our armed services strong.

Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

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