Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Religion in Uniform: The Contested Place of Observance and Belief in the Armed Forces

Wednesday, March 27, 2013
12:10-1:45 pm (Lunch Provided)
Room 122, Yale Law School


Maj. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap, Jr., USAF (Ret.)
Professor of Law and Executive Director
Center on Law, Ethics and National Security
Duke University School of Law

Eugene R. Fidell
Senior Research Scholar in Law and
Florence Rogatz Visiting Lecturer in Law
Yale Law School

In 2010, controversy erupted when 41% of non-Christian cadets at the Air Force Academy reported being subjected to unwanted proselytizing. This past year, Senator Todd Akin’s amendment to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act drew criticism for its potential to protect bigotry under the guise of religious speech. Established by the Continental Congress in 1775, the military chaplaincy is as old as this country, but how does a country whose Constitution forbids laws respecting the establishment of religion employ thousands of religious leaders? Should the military permit religious speech in its ranks that might conflict with its own official policies and positions? How should the military even define religious expression?

Soldiers too can face difficult questions in balancing faith and duty to country. Given that Goldman v. Weinberger denied the right of Jewish officers to wear their yarmulkes in exception to Air Force dress code, should Major Nidal Hasan have been permitted to grow his beard, in violation of Army regulation, to fulfill his religious commitments? Would it matter if the beard were not mandated, but voluntarily chosen? In approaching their duties, can soldiers hold religious commitments higher than their military obligations, or must the stars and stripes fly above any other loyalty?

1. Goldman v. Weiberger, 475 U.S. 503 (1986)
2. Akin Amendment to 2013 National Defense Authorization Act
3. Ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Armed Services Regarding Major Nidal Hasan's Beard
4. New York Times Coverage of Controversy over Dipping the American Flag to a Cross