Though freedom of religion remains one of our most cherished values, it is still among the most controversial of constitutional rights. This is especially true in the context of military service. Even those who purposefully enlist in the armed forces, implicitly giving up certain liberties they freely enjoyed as civilians, would not relinquish their freedom of conscience. Yet the right to practice their religious beliefs, unfettered by arbitrary governmental restrictions, is regularly challenged.
Fortunately, however, most western cultures regard religious liberty as so fundamental that their military establishments routinely develop regulations to accommodate specific religious practices.
This principle was of particular import in the recent conflict in the Persian Gulf, during which the American government sought to limit the conduct of its military personnel so as not to offend the religious sensibilities of fundamentalist Arabs, specifically the host nation of Saudi Arabia. To what extent such political and strategic restrictions impinge upon basic constitutional principles is a question that has not yet been fully explored.
This article examines specific restrictions promulgated and practiced during the Persian Gulf War, provides a brief historical analysis of how the United States and other nations have traditionally accommodated the religious activities of their military personnel, and addresses the question of how far we can constitutionally limit the free-exercise rights of the people in the military in light of current Supreme Court jurisprudence.
Religious Liberty in the Military: The First Amendment under "Friendly Fire", 9 J. L. & Religion 471 (1992)