Recent events surrounding Army Reserve Major Jamie Schwandt in North Carolina bring up the First Amendment issue regarding political and religious proselytizing within the military.
Army Reserve Major Schwandt on YouTube
In July of this year, Army Reserve Major Schwandt posted a video on YouTube discussing abortion and transgender issues. In his video, Schwandt identified himself as a member of the Army Reserve. He stated it was his duty to the President and the country to express his ideas.
He received disciplinary action for the video in August; the Department of Defense claimed his discussion of those issues was prejudicial to good order and discipline. Military members are prohibited from discussing or sharing their political or religious opinions on social media while in uniform.
Major Schwandt received a Developmental Counseling Form as a reprimand for the video. His command’s request via the Counseling form was to simply remove the video. Schwandt refuses to remove the video from YouTube claiming that he did not share any opinions, only stated facts.
Since receiving the Developmental Counseling form, Schwandt has reached out to OANN and North Carolina Republican Madison Cawthorn in hopes that they can bring more attention to his situation. To date, neither has spoken out about Major Schwandt’s situation or receiving disciplinary action.
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
Mikey Weinstein, the founder of the watchdog group Military Religious Freedom Foundation, spoke out in regards to Christian proselytizing in the military. Weinstein offered his view on the situation regarding Major Schwandt’s video. He believes the action taken against Schwandt was akin to a slap on the wrist and proof that the military is afraid to truly take a stand against religious proselytizing.
The precedent set from Parker v. Levy states that service members have certain rights and freedoms curtailed in regard to the well being of the military. This ruling was the first time that freedom of speech was restricted for active members.
Weinstein believes that the Department of Defense isn’t enforcing the rules strictly enough because they do not want to turn these individuals into martyrs. Without the DoD enforcing these internal guidelines the issue of religious and political proselytizing will get worse. It’s not a big jump to extremism. The state of the military and even the Constitution are at risk if these more outspoken service members aren’t met with swift and severe punishments.
First Liberty Institute
Mike Berry, the director of military affairs with the First Liberty Institute, weighed in on the situation. He completely disagrees with Weinstein’s view. He claims that the percentage of military members who could be considered “extreme” is minimal.
Religion and religious freedom are important to troops everywhere. Even overseas in active war zones, being able to practice and speak about faith can be a force multiplier. Berry believes the issues regarding service member retention and new enlistments are directly tied to the current administration’s views on religious freedom and freedom of speech.
Protect Your First Amendment Rights
Despite being reprimanded for his comments, Schwandt has the right to speak his views so long as he does it in the correct manner. It is only illegal for service members to proselytize while they are in uniform or to attribute their statements to the US Government.
The Pentagon has updated rules hoping to weed out extremists and those with volatile anti-government views, but these new rules only apply to troops under federal orders or under the command of the president. Individuals who are off-duty reservists or National Guard members are not subject to these new guidelines. As long as these members refrain from claiming their beliefs are that of the military branch they represent there is no wrong-doing under military laws and regulations, however, they could be subject to appropriate civilian or federal laws. It is important to be clear. There are extremists, and then there are individuals who wish to express their religious beliefs in a nonviolent and non-invasive way. The offices of Joseph Jordan Attorney at Law do not endorse extremist behavior. We do support and defend first amendment speech. Extremism and first amendment speech are two very different things but often the two are conflated and confused. Each situation is different and should be handled on a case-by-case basis. There are too many factors to consider to carte blanche rule against the first amendment for any military member.
It should not be illegal for any military service member to speak their mind, or voice opinions or concerns, as long as they aren’t in uniform and so long as the speech does not incite others to violence or wrongfully influence others to do an act. For instance, you can’t shout fire in the middle of a crowded theater when there is no fire. Free Speech seems like a simple issue, but it is not. Please consult an attorney when accused of an offense involving what you consider your free speech rights.
Our country was founded on freedom of religion. The military fights globally to protect that right. For the Department of Defense to try to silence members, no matter the rank or branch, only further inflames the religious and political ideals it’s trying to silence.
Defend Your Rights with a Knowledgeable, Military Defense Lawyer
If you find yourself receiving disciplinary action because of your spoken views or beliefs, you need a knowledgeable military defense lawyer on your side. Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law, is a former Army JAG officer committed to serving you and defending your rights.
Our team proudly advocates for military members accused of violating any articles of the UCMJ, whether minor or serious. We’ll ensure you receive the best possible representation because we know how important it is to defend your beliefs. Call us toll-free at 800-580-8034 or 254-853-0064 today to speak directly with Mr. Jordan about your case.