Military perplexed after Trump says soldiers couldn't get religious items

Trump signs religious liberty executive order
Trump signs religious liberty executive order

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  • Pentagon officials are adamant there is no policy that prohibits members of the military from receiving religious items
  • Defense Department policies prohibit proselytizing at military installations

Washington (CNN)When President Donald Trump signed an executive order promoting religious liberty on Thursday, he singled out the US military for preventing troops from receiving religious items.

"People were forbidden from giving or receiving religious items at a military hospital where our brave service members were being treated, and when they wanted those religious items," Trump said at the signing ceremony. "These were great, great people. These are great soldiers. They wanted those items. They were precluded from getting them."
It was a comment that raised eyebrows at the Pentagon.
Pentagon officials are adamant there is no policy that prohibits members of the military from receiving religious items at military installations.
Military hospitals are considered the same as a military base, so security and patient privacy concerns require that any donation of any outside items by non-military groups be reviewed and distributed with chaplains overseeing religious matters. And no outside group can enter a hospital or a patients room without permission, according to defense officials.
But that doesn't mean service members there can't receive religious items. Indeed, service members have the option of declaring their faith in their personnel records so chaplains of that religion can ensure they get whatever religious items or services they wish.
So what was Trump referring to in his comments?
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for clarification. But Pentagon officials said he was likely referring to a situation in 2011 at the Army's Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington.
"In 2011, a local patient visitation policy was issued at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that was written to prevent unsolicited proselytizing from religious groups, including the distribution of their religious items to patients who had not asked for them," the Pentagon said in a statement sent to CNN.
"Due to the wording of that policy, religious groups interpreted the policy to be an outright ban on visitation and distribution of religious items," the statement continued. "The policy was subsequently re-written to eliminate ambiguity, stating that, 'Patients determine their visitors.' "
Military officials have emphasized for the last several years that Defense Department policies prohibit proselytizing at military installations.