The head of the Indiana National Guard says he made a video promoting an evangelical Christian group because it helps soldiers who struggle with their marriages after coming home from war.
But a military watchdog group says Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, the Guard's adjutant general, violated military rules and the First Amendment by promoting a religious group in the 33-second video while in uniform.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, based in Albuquerque, N.M., sent a letter to the National Guard Bureau on Thursday asking that Umbarger be investigated and punished. Former Air Force attorney Mikey Weinstein founded the group, which seeks to guarantee religious freedom in the military.
Major General r. Martin Umbarger
The issue, Weinstein said, is that Umbarger's message promotes one religious group over others. In the military, Weinstein says, such a show of support from a two-star general is intimidating.
"He should be removed immediately," Weinstein told The Indianapolis Star on Monday, "and, from our perspective, court-martialed."
Umbarger made the video in September 2011 on behalf of Centurion's Watch, a Christian group based in Indianapolis that offers marriage counseling to military families. It was posted on the nonprofit's website.The Star article goes on to quote a couple military attorneys, both with ethics background, who offer reasonable observations that he shouldn't have done the endorsement video while in uniform but it was a fairly innocuous mistake in judgment.
Then the Star article turns to Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale Law School. Fidell called for Daniels to dismiss Umbarger saying that:
"Even if he had been wearing his birthday suit, I'd have a problem because he has a very limited function," Fidell said. "Everybody knows he's an adjutant general. He's not a clergyman, he's not a chaplain, he's not the head chaplain for the National Guard. It's just utterly wrong and utterly against the neutrality that a state agency should be displaying."Obviously Fidell doesn't teach constitutional law. A person, because of his employment, does not lose his free speech and free exercise or religion (that other religion clause in the First Amendment that people like Weinstein regularly ignore) rights.
In the 1947 Everson case, the Supreme Court rewrote the until then understood meaning of the First Amendment Establishment Clause to reflect its modern meaning - that government cannot endorse or promote a particular religion or religion over non-religion. That clause has to be balanced with the Umbarger's rights under the Free Exercise Clause, which requires that government accommodate his religious beliefs. Then you also have the Free Speech Clause which protects Umbarger's right to speak.
Bottom line is that Umbarger should not have done the video while in uniform because that can appear as government endorsing religion. But Umbarger has every right to endorse whatever religious group he wants to endorse when he takes off the uniform, contrary to what some uninformed Yale law professor thinks.
Umbargers' violation deserves a slap on the wrist, certainly not court-martialing. That someone purporting to represent "religious freedom" would take this position shows what this is really about - an attack on religious freedom.