By Will Hall, Message Editor
ALEXANDRIA – “Whether it’s national defense, right-to-life or the protection of First Amendment rights,” Rep. John Fleming told the Baptist Message, “it’s my personal faith, my belief in Jesus Christ as my Savior and what I think he wants me to do that guides me in my decision-making.”
Fleming, who represents the 4th U.S. Congressional District in Louisiana, hopes to employ these same values as a U.S. Senator, vying as one of 24 candidates who have filed to replace the retiring Sen. David Vitter.
But, for now, he is a member of the powerful House Committee on Armed Services, which has oversight for such matters as the defense budget (including defense acquisition programs), national security issues related to atomic energy, and contingency operations in the global war on terrorism.
He also holds a coveted leadership position as chairman of the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans for the House Committee on Natural Resources, and guides policy and programs relating to such issues as fisheries management, hydroelectricity generation by federal water projects, and even U.S. participation in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (which defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to use of the world’s oceans).
Both committees handle complex issues on strategic policy, and deliberate on important matters dealing with the day-to-day lives of Americans, but Fleming says he has peace in making most decisions because of his faith.
“Many members sometimes wring their hands,” he said, “wondering, what’s the right thing to do.”
“Virtually all my decisions are guided by my faith,” Fleming explained.
Because of his faith, he has not limited himself just to giving leadership on defense and natural resources, but also has taken up the mantle to champion pro-life causes in the House.
He has submitted or supported bills to: protect health entities that decline to provide, pay for or refer for abortions; defund Planned Parenthood, the largest U.S. abortion provider; prohibit public funds from paying for abortions; and require parental consent as a measure to prevent young girls from being transported across state lines for abortions.
“Protecting life from conception to natural death is a foundational principle for me,” Fleming said.
But he said he also has a special place in his heart for U.S. military men and women.
“Soon after I came to Congress in 2009, I began hearing all these reports of military chaplains who were told they couldn’t utter the name of Jesus in a prayer, or they had to have their prayers pre-approved by the command,” he said.
Fleming said he heard instances of someone being fired for having a Bible on his desk, and in one incident, an Air Force member was threatened by his lesbian supervisor for not endorsing her lifestyle.
“It wasn’t a matter of him having to be quiet about it,” Fleming said. “She actually wanted him to be openly supportive and vocal in his support, and he just couldn’t do that because of his religious beliefs.”
Fleming said he was one of several congressmen who worked to include language in the National Defense Authorization Act FY2104 requiring the accommodation of individual expressions of religious belief by service members. Measures also were added to protect chaplains’ prayers from restrictions and to allow them to exercise the tenets of their faith.
“There’s never a wrong time to do the right thing,” he underscored, adding that the legislative wording gives base commanders “political and legal cover” to push back against atheistic groups who try to hinder service members from exercising the religious beliefs they hold dear.
“My earliest upbringing and training – my earliest memories – are of being in Sunday school and Vacation Bible School and being in church and learning values, learning principles that align so closely with those of our Founding Fathers,” Fleming said in summarizing his legislative philosophy. “For me, it’s important to live by those basic principles that I was trained up to believe – that we have a set of laws based on the Ten Commandments, and that those are still as important, as relevant, today as they were about 3,500 years ago.
“As long as we stay true to the important values and principles that this nation was built on – and the core of its existence, the Constitution – I think we’ll stay on the right pathway and we’ll end up in the right place,” he offered. “Our laws, both secular and religious are based on the same common tenets.
“Given all those things, I think it’s important that the decisions I make — both as a congressman, now, and hopefully as a senator – are going to be guided by those basic principles that I’ve always come to embrace and love.”
John and his wife Cindy, members of First Baptist Minden, have been married for 37 years and have four children and three grandchildren.