WASHINGTON --The Navy has announced new Community Guidelines, removing its restrictions on religious speech on its Navy for Moms website. This change is in response to a letter Liberty Counsel sent to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, demanding an end to religious discrimination and reinstatement of users' free speech rights on the website. In its response letter to Liberty Counsel, Navy Admiral J. F. Kilkenny wrote, "I have instructed my staff to remove the current restrictions on religious and political debate. The goal of the revised guidelines is to allow for more open discussion without compromising the purpose of the website...."
NavyForMoms.com was set up by the United States Navy to provide support and a means of communication for mothers and other loved ones of current and potential sailors.
A group called "Christian Chat" was established on the Navy for Moms website. A website administrator informed the group that it could not use the name "Christian Chat." The administrator said the group's name had to be changed, because such blatantly religious speech is too divisive for a public forum. The Navy for Moms Community Guidelines had also been revised to prohibit the posting of religious discussions except for prayers offered for sailors. Those restrictions have now been removed, and the Christian Chat group is free to retain its name.
Avoiding controversy is not a valid reason for restricting speech in a public forum. These kinds of restrictions on private speakers using a government-sponsored forum are not required in order to avoid a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
In announcing the revised rules to its members, Rear Admiral Robin Braun said that "personal freedoms are extremely important to the Navy and my hope is that these updated Guidelines provide the best possible balance between the defense of those liberties and the integrity of the website."
Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented: "We applaud the Navy for responding by removing restrictions on religious speech. To forbid 'Christian Chat' as a chat forum for Navy Moms, under the notion that the name is too divisive for a public forum, was absurd. About 90 percent of Americans profess belief in God, and the majority of them are Christian. Of all places, religious freedom must be respected in our armed services. To remove the word 'Christian' from a chat forum is like banning hot dogs in a baseball stadium. It is simply unthinkable."