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The forgotten urgency of religious liberty

In President Biden’s National Security Strategy, religious freedom is missing in action

President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 7 in Washington, D.C. Associated Press/Photo by Patrick Semansky

The forgotten urgency of religious liberty
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This week, President Biden delivered his second State of the Union address to the United States Congress. Of the issues that he and his administration believe are important, there was one glaring omission—religious liberty as a component of our national security.

America has long recognized the importance of religious liberty when it comes to the national defense. Our first commander-in-chief, President Washington, believed it to be of vital importance to the American military, lest “the world should be so uncharitable as to think us void of religion.”

Nearly two centuries later, President Truman convened a committee on religion and the military, which concluded:

One side of the world, to which we belong, holds to the idea of a moral law which is based on religious convictions and teachings. ... The other side of the conflict has organized its idea upon a rejection of moral law and individual dignity that is utterly repugnant to any of our religions. Indeed, it has been necessary for the totalitarians to attack and stifle religion because such faith represents the antithesis of everything they teach.

For the more than three-and-a-half decades that followed, religious liberty was implicitly acknowledged as a pillar of American national security. In 1986, Congress passed a law that required the president to publish an annual National Security Strategy. Although none of the early National Security Strategy issuances made explicit reference to religious liberty, Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush certainly recognized its continued importance.

In his 1997 National Security Strategy, President Clinton made the first reference to religious liberty in this context, pledging that the nation “will work with international institutions to combat religious persecution.” The following decades—spanning two Democratic and two Republican administrations—saw religious liberty as a staple in the National Security Strategy.

Considering the present challenges America faces both domestically and internationally, one would think religious liberty would remain as a central component of our national security strategy. In the midst of emerging and ever-evolving threats to our national security, not to mention a military recruiting and retention crisis of historic proportions, now more than ever we ought to embrace America’s first freedom as an important line of defense. Instead, we find that concern for religious liberty has gone missing in action under President Biden’s watch.

Young Americans are turning down or leaving military service at an alarming rate. Many of those are people of faith.

In his 2022 National Security Strategy, President Biden asserts that his administration will “advance America’s vital interests.” And to be fair, his Strategy does “reaffirm the rights to free speech, a free press, peaceful assembly, and other core liberties.” But the other freedom enshrined in our Constitution—religious freedom—is conspicuously absent.

This sends the wrong message to the world and, more importantly, to America.

The Biden administration’s message is that religious freedom is no longer a priority. In its place are woke ideologies that continue to divide us from within. The result is that our military is quickly becoming just another political bureaucracy, and military service is becoming less desirable to even the most patriotic among us.

Young Americans are turning down or leaving military service at an alarming rate. Many of those are people of faith. Whether they objected to the Covid vaccine on religious grounds, or they simply want to serve while observing their religious tenets, the military has quickly become hostile to people of faith.

If the trend continues, our military could see its numbers reduced to levels that will critically degrade its ability to defend the nation if called upon. Administration and Pentagon officials may make their best efforts to put a positive spin on things, but the facts cannot be spun. In recent polling commissioned by the Heritage Foundation, nearly seven in 10 active duty service members report observing significant politicization of the military, and that it negatively affects their decision to encourage their own children to follow in their footsteps of military service.

The solution is as clear as it is simple. President Biden, and every subsequent president, must return America to its core principles. That means including religious liberty as a vital component of our national security. It also means ensuring religious service members are no longer treated like second-class citizens because of their faith.

Indeed, if the American military continues to lose its people of faith, the American people will lose faith in the military.

Mike Berry

Mike Berry is vice president of external affairs at First Liberty Institute and a former active duty U.S. Marine Corps officer.

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