NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Some military chaplains trying to access the Southern Baptist Convention website this week were surprised to find it blocked with a message that it contained "hostile content."
The problem left military officials having to explain to leaders of the nation's largest Protestant denomination that it was an unintentional software glitch.
Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart said Thursday in an interview that the problem seemed to be with the commercial software the military uses to protect its network. The software blocks access to prohibited sites, like those for pornography or gambling, as well as sites that might have some type of malware associated them, often unbeknownst to the site's owners.
"It probably doesn't help that the message that comes up when a site is blocked will often say 'malicious content,' or in this case it said 'hostile content.' People will look at that and think, 'What is hostile about this site?'
"It should probably say there might be malicious software associated with the site."
Pickart said the department was working diligently to find and fix the issue blocking the SBC's website.
The department strongly supports the rights of service members, including their ability to access religious websites, he said.
SBC spokesman Sing Oldham said the military has told denominational leaders the blockage was accidental. Even so, he called it "deeply disturbing."
In a statement to the media, Oldham said, "If the government has blocked any part of the sbc.net website for any purpose that would be an unconscionable breach of trust with the American public."
Ron Crews is the executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, which represents groups that send chaplains to the military. He said chaplains need to access their denominations' websites for materials and information.
The Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention has 16 million members and Crews said it provides more military chaplains than any other faith group.
He said many evangelicals have become concerned since the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that chaplains and other military personnel who hold conservative religious views about homosexuality — such as believing that homosexual sex is sinful — will face discrimination.
"We're just hopeful that the military's going to resolve this quickly and that chaplains will be able to maintain communication with their denominations," he said. " ... We want to make sure the military is not singling out evangelicals in some way that's putting them in a negative light."