The U.S. Military has blocked access to the Southern Baptist Convention’s website on an unknown number of military bases because it contains “hostile content” -- just weeks after an Army briefing labeled Evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics as examples of religious extremism, Fox News has learned.
The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination known for its support of the pro-life movement and its strong belief in traditional marriage.
Southern Baptist chaplains reported that SBC.net had been blocked at military installations around the nation. The censorship was made public after an Army officer tried to log onto the denomination’s website and instead -- received a warning message.
“The site you have requested has been blocked by Team CONUS (C-TNOSC/RCERT-CONUS) due to hostile content,” the message read.
Team CONUS protects the computer network of the Dept. of Defense. The SBC's website was not blocked at the Pentagon.
It's unclear what the "hostile content" might have been. The SBC is pro-life and opposed to same-sex marriage.
“So the Southern Baptist Convention is now considered hostile to the U.S. Army,” the officer wrote in an email to the American Family Association.
Sing Oldham, spokesman for the SBC, told Fox News he had been in touch with the Dept. of Defense and had serious concerns.
"This is deeply disturbing," he told Fox News. "While the Deputy Chief of Operation of the US Army has assured us this is a random event with no malicious intent, the Army must run this to the ground to assure that this is the case."
However, Fox News has received reports from across the country of Southern Baptist chaplains unable to access the website.
"If the government blocked any portion of the SBC.net Web site for any purpose, that would be an unconscionable breach of trust with the American public," Oldham said. "The First Amendment exists to protect the church from governmental censorship of or infringement upon religious speech and the free exercise of religion."
The Dept. of Defense confirmed to Fox News late Wednesday that the SBC website had been blocked -- but not intentionally.
“The Department of Defense is not intentionally blocking access to this site, said Lt. Col. Damien Pickart. “We are working diligently to investigate what might be causing access issues for some of our service members and to correct the situation as quickly as possible.”
The AFA sent out an action alert urging its members to contact the Pentagon and ask them to “stop the military’s alarming trend of hostility towards faith and religious freedom in our military.”
“Most disturbing to him (the Army officer) was the fact that the military labeled his personal religious faith as ‘hostile’ to the U.S. Army,” AFA spokesman Randy Sharp told Fox News.
Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, told Fox News that Southern Baptist chaplains on military bases around the nation have been unable to access the website.
“It’s a concern for the Dept. of Defense to block the website of one of the major evangelical denominations in the country,” Crews told Fox News. “The Southern Baptist Convention has the largest number of chaplains in the military representing Southern Baptist soldiers and churches. Those chaplains need access to their denomination’s website.”
An Army Reservist contacted Fox News and said he tried to log onto the site and an “Access Denied” message appeared on the screen.
“You request was categorized by Blue Coat Web Filter as ‘Religion,’” the message read.
Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission denounced the censorship and demanded that Southern Baptist soldiers be provided access to the site.
“This is outrageous,” Land told Fox News. “Southern Baptists make up a higher percentage of the all-volunteer military than in the general population. It’s outrageous that our website would be blocked for Southern Baptists serving in the military and defending the freedom to access websites.”
Land said the military censorship was part of a “disturbing trend.”
“They need to unblock the website and find out who is responsible,” he said. “That person needs to be fired.”
Pickart told Fox News the Dept. of Defense “strongly supports the rights of service members, to include their ability to access religious websites like that of the SBC.”
“With Internet technology constantly evolving, the Department is working to ensure that service members have access to an open Internet while preserving information and operational security,” he said.
Religious liberty groups were outraged by the block and called for an immediate investigation.
“This is another example of the growing hostility toward evangelical Christians in the armed forces,” Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin, executive vice president of the Family Research Council told Fox News. “Ironically, the very people who are sworn to support and defend the rights provided in the U.S. Constitution are being denied the right to exercise those rights individually."
The American Family Association feared it was further evidence of what they called religious hostility within the Pentagon.
“This is one more example of the Defense Department leadership allowing hostility towards faith and religious freedom in our military,” Sharp told Fox News. “The growing list of offenses is overwhelming and Secretary Chuck Hagel should no longer ignore it.”
In recent days, the Army has come under fire after an officer sent an email to subordinates labeling the AFA and the Family Research Council as “domestic hate groups.”
In another incident a group of Army Reservists were told that Evangelical Christians and Catholics are examples of religious extremists.
The Army categorized the incidents as isolated and not condoned by the Dept. of the Army. They said the presentation to the reservists was not produced by the Army nor did it reflect their policy or doctrine.
Last week, soldiers at Fort Wainwright in Alaska were told to scrape off a Bible verse reference on their weapon scopes. That verse had been inscribed by the maker of the scopes.
Among other incidents:
- A War Games scenario at Fort Leavenworth that identified Christian groups and Evangelical groups as being potential threats;
- A 2009 Dept. of Homeland Security memorandum that identified future threats to national security coming from Evangelicals and pro-life groups;
- A West Point study released by the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center that linked pro-lifers to terrorism;
- Evangelical leader Franklin Graham was uninvited from the Pentagon’s National Day of Prayer service because of his comments about Islam;
- Christian prayers were banned at the funeral services for veterans at Houston’s National Cemetery;
- Bibles were banned at Walter Reed Army Medical Center – a decision that was later rescinded;
- Christian crosses and a steeple were removed from a chapel in Afghanistan because the military said the icons disrespected other religions;
- Catholic chaplains were told not to read a letter to parishioners from their archbishop related to Obamacare mandates. The Secretary of the Army feared the letter could be viewed as a call for civil disobedience.
“All of these things make one concerned about the attitude in the military toward evangelicals, Roman Catholics and other people of faith,” Crews said. “He are hoping the military makes every necessary step to correct this.”
The incidents led more than 40 members of Congress to write the Secretary of the Army earlier this month demanding an explanation and an apology.
“This is astonishing and offensive,” read a written by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO). “We call on you to rescind this briefing and apologize for its content and set the record straight on the Army’s view on these faith groups by providing a balanced briefing on religious extremism.”