A new amendment has been introduced to the National Defense Authorization Act for the fiscal year 2021 that seeks to protect the religious freedom rights of service members amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The amendment proposed by Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the only military chaplain serving in the 116th Congress, would prevent the Department of Defense from issuing any “guidance, order, or regulation” restricting service members’ attendance at religious services or gatherings “if similar guidance does not exist for other gatherings.”
“This amendment will guarantee that our men and women in uniform are able to freely exercise the very freedoms they fight to protect each and every day,” Collins, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve who is also a candidate for U.S. Senate, said in a statement
The amendment comes after the U.S. Navy issued an order that critics said banned troops from attending indoor religious services during the pandemic but allowed them to gather at house parties.
The Navy ultimately clarified its guidance last week, stressing that in-person worship is now permissible as long as measures are taken to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Collins applauded the decision.
“While we can all agree that the health and safety of our troops is critical during the ongoing public health crisis, singling out religious gatherings while allowing other activities and unrestricted social gatherings to take place is unlawful,” Collins said, according to Christian Post.
Collins, along with Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper on July 1, demanding a meeting with him and other military officials by the end of the month. The lawmakers want to “discuss the steps that need to be taken to protect the religious freedom of our service members.”