The Pentagon blocked access to the Southern Baptist Convention’s website recently because it contained “hostile content” that was later determined to be malware, a military spokesman said Thursday.
“We determined that our web filters recently detected malware at the SBC website, which resulted in the block for some service members,” Lt. Col. Damien Pickart said in a prepared statement. “The department has verified that the Southern Baptist Convention website no longer contains malware that may pose a threat to our networks and will be unblocked today.”
Pickart denied the block had anything to do with the religious content of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.“The Department of Defense strongly supports the religious rights of service members, to include their ability to access religious websites like that of the SBC,” he said.
Hundreds of Southern Baptist military personnel and chaplains across the nation reported earlier this week they could no longer access the SBC.net website on base computers. Instead, they received a message saying the website had been blocked due to “hostile content.”
At the same time, soldiers reported they could access websites of other religious faiths and organizations.
The block came just a few weeks after an Army briefing labeled Evangelical Christians and Catholics as examples of religious extremist groups, and a separate email identified two prominent Christian ministries as “domestic hate groups.”
Southern Baptist Convention spokesman Sing Oldham urged Christians not to rush to judgment on why the military blocked the website.
“Though there have been several instances recently in which evangelical Christians have been marginalized by the broader culture, we think that a rush to judgment that the United States Military has targeted the Southern Baptist Convention as a hostile religious group we be premature,” he said in a statement to Baptist Press.
The block was first made public by an Army officer who contacted the American Family Association. They sent 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 military chaplains were among those 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.”
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.”
But the Pentagon moved to ensure that the block was a matter of website security and not an infringement on religious liberty. “In this case, security systems performed as expected in detecting a threat to DoD networks,” Pickart said.
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.”