I stumbled through my explanation (I’m getting better!), attempting to convey a strong judgment against drunkenness without condemning drinking—and drinkers—in general. But I always carefully share one of the most significant faith-based reasons my wife and I decided not to drink: so that others might not stumble because of our actions (Romans 14:13).
After hearing my explanation, he looked down at his glass, as if he wanted to do something with my revelation. But something was holding him back. Then something seemed to snap inside him. He looked up and smiled, “I just love to drink.” The watershed had collapsed, but I had done my duty: living out my faith in word and action so that others might see the light, and be curious.
Living out an active faith while serving on active duty is important, yet challenging when you don’t know your rights. It’s even more important for those enthusiastic about evangelism and apologetics to know what can and can’t be done while on active duty. And while it may seem otherwise, the law—and military policy in general—is on your side.
What You Can Do
As stated in the “Religious Liberty Protection Kit for the U.S. Military” from First Liberty Institute, “Under most circumstances a service member’s religious expression—including evangelism or proselytizing—is protected by the First Amendment.” And for the most part, “the military cannot restrict off-duty religious expression,” such as leading a Bible study in your barracks room after working hours.
On-duty religious expression can only be restricted if the military “can demonstrate that the restriction furthers a compelling governmental interest by the least restrictive means.” So unless keeping a Bible on your work desk interferes with the mission, readiness, good order and discipline, or health (and it doesn’t), your freedom to do so should not be restricted.
If your sincerely held religious belief requires you to enact (or refrain from) a physical act of expression of that belief, and a military policy, practice, or duty will substantially burden your exercise of religion, then you may request an accommodation, such as growing a beard, wearing specific apparel, or observing the Sabbath.
Policy states that these accommodations will be approved as long as the requests don’t interfere with the mission, readiness, etc. But a request for accommodation is not a guarantee that it will be granted. Compliance with the policy, practice, or duty, is required unless and until approved.
Additional requirement: the act (or refraining from) must be specifically commanded by the doctrine of your faith—and not based on your interpretation alone—and must be conducted in good faith. An appeals court deemed that while Scripture is a central part of the Christian faith, there are no doctrinal commands to post Bible verses in public view at the workplace, such as the Marine who refused to remove Scripture references—which were perceived as adversarial in undertone—from a cubicle wall.