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Military Personnel and Freedom of Expression: Selected Legal Issues
R. Chuck Mason (au); Cynthia Broughter (au)
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides the freedom to individuals to exercise their religious beliefs without governmental interference, and simultaneously prohibits government actions that benefit followers of one faith over another. At times, when government actions would otherwise burden individuals’ religious exercise, the government makes efforts to accommodate the religious practice. However, accommodation of religion to prevent violations of the Free Exercise Clause must be carefully considered in order to prevent violation of the Establishment Clause. The tension between the clauses has been illustrated in a number of military scenarios in recent years. This report provides an overview of the requirements of the First Amendment related to military personnel’s religious exercise. It analyzes current constitutional and statutory requirements regarding religious exercise, and provides a framework for how Congress and the courts might consider future issues that arise related to servicemembers’ religious exercise. Specifically, the report examines the limitations placed on servicemembers in uniform in the exercise of their religious beliefs. It also examines the role of military chaplains and the legal challenges associated with publicly funding religious personnel. The report analyzes efforts by Congress and the Dept. of Defense (DOD) to address the constitutional concerns that are raised by these issues.
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