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The military's "Don't ask, Don't tell" (DADT) policy

Part 1: Religious freedom concerns faced by
conservative military chaplains if DADT ends.

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Problems facing conservative military chaplains in adapting to an end to DADT:

The military currently has about 3,000 chaplains on active duty.

Since almost all conservative faith groups strongly emphasize evangelism, it is natural for their clergypersons to be attracted to the military where they are able to minister to many unsaved and unaffiliated servicemembers. Since about three in four Americans identify as Christians, most chaplains come from conservative Christian faith groups and organizations. About 450 military chaplains come from the Southern Baptist Convention, 270 from the Roman Catholic Church, and smaller numbers from the Full Gospel Pentecostal church, Presbyterian Church, various reformed churches, the Assemblies of God, and other denominations and religions. 1

When dealing with matters related to sexual orientation, religious conservatives tend to highly value church tradition and their interpretation of the seven "clobber passages" The latter are passages in the Bible that they believe deals with same-sex behavior. They give less value to the conclusions of human sexuality researchers and therapists, and to their own personal experience. Almost all religious conservatives regard homosexuality to be a behavior, not an orientation. They generally teach that same-sex sexual activity is inherently sinful no matter what is the nature of the relationship; that homosexual orientation is a choice; that gays and lesbians can be converted to heterosexuality through prayer and reparative therapy; and that same-sex behavior precludes a person from attaining Heaven after death. Since they believe that the only alternative to Heaven are the torture chambers of Hell, conservative chaplains are very heavily motivated to save as many lesbian, gay and bisexual servicemembers as possible from such an eternal destiny.

Chaplains from more liberal faith groups are much fewer in number. They tend to value personal experience and the findings of scientists and therapists as equal or more important than church tradition. They also tend to interpret the clobber passages differently and find them unrelated to loving, committed same-sex relationships. They give greater weight to the themes in the Bible that call for justice and love. For these reasons, they generally teach views opposing those held by conservatives: that homosexuality is a orientation not a behavior. They teach that same-sex sexual activity by lesbians, gays and bisexuals can be free of sin if it is safe, non-manipulative, non-coercive, and perhaps if the couple is involved in a committed relationship. They believe that homosexual orientation is discovered, not chosen; that adult gays and lesbians' sexual orientation is fixed, or essentially so, and that sexual orientation is not a bar to attaining Heaven after death.

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Arguing for retention of the DADT policy on the basis of religious freedom:

Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBTs) have been recently very successful in promoting the "gay agenda" which is to achieve equal rights for persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities including heterosexuality. Religious conservatives have tended to respond by raising the fear of restrictions on their religious freedoms. -- specifically the freedom to oppress and discriminate against minorities. For example:

  • When the existing U.S. federal hate-crimes legislation was expanded to add sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, and disability as additional protected classes, many religious conservatives predicted that the hate-crimes bill would go further than discouraging physical assaults based on hatred of LGBTs, men, women, and disabled persons. They maintained that it would also become a hate-speech law that would restrict freedom of speech including the right of pastors to read and interpret the clobber passages from the Bible. The bill was signed into law on 2009-OCT-28. Over a year has been passed since that time and no hate-speech prosecutions have been initiated anywhere in the U.S. They cannot in the future because of the absolute protection of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which guarantees the freedom to engage in hate speech.

  • As an increasing number of political jurisdictions in the U.S. made same-sex marriage and civil unions available, many religious conservative responded with a fear-based campaign predicting that churches would be sued if they refused to marry same-sex couples. One of the best efforts in this direction was the National Organization for Marriage's 1.5 million ad campaign described as protecting "... marriage and religious liberty throughout the nation." However, the free exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution has always protected religious groups who wish to discriminate against marrying some couples based on age, race, skin color, religion, and in the case of the Roman Catholic church, physical disability. There is little chance that faith groups who want to discriminate against same-sex couples would ever be charged or sued.

However, in other instances, conservatives' fear of restrictions on their freedom to discriminate are probably valid:

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion,  gender or national origin illegal in certain limited cases. The proposed U.S. federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would expand the protected classes to include persons of all sexual orientations (heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual) and gender identities (cisgendered, transgender, transsexual). Again, religious and social conservatives raised concern on the basis of employers' religious freedom to discriminate. Most homophobic employers who want to continue discriminating will be able to, because the bill would only apply to companies with more than 15 employees. Also, religious institutions are given immunity.

  • Conservative chaplains might find themselves in a conflict situation between lesbian, gay and bisexual servicemembers and the military's non-discrimination policy if the DADT policy is repealed.

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Open letter from retired military chaplains:

A press conference was held on 2010-APR-28 at the Family Research Council -- a fundamentalist Christian advocacy group -- in Washington DC. Present were two retired military chaplains -- Brigadier General Douglas E. Lee, U.S. Army, and Colonel Richard R. Young -- along with Tony Perkins, the president of the FRC and Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund -- a fundamentalist Christian legal defense group that specializes in countering restrictions on religious freedom. They announced the release of a letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates promoting the retention of the DADT policy. It was eventually signed by 66 retired chaplains. 2

The letter states, in part:

"... if the government normalizes homosexual behavior in the armed forces, many (if not most) chaplains will confront a profoundly difficult moral choice: whether they are to obey God or to obey men. This forced choice must be faced, since orthodox Christianity—which represents a significant percentage of religious belief in the armed forces—does not affirm homosexual behavior. Imposing this conflict by
normalizing homosexual behavior within the armed forces seems to have two likely—and equally undesirable—results.

First, chaplains might be pressured by adverse discipline and collapsed careers into watering down their teachings and avoiding—if not abandoning—key elements of their sending denomination’s faith and practice. Such a result would be the very antithesis of religious freedom and inimical to the guarantees made by our First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Second, chaplains might have their ability to freely share their religious beliefs challenged and torn away in a variety of everyday situations. For instance, chaplains who methodically preach book-by-book from the Bible would inevitably present religious teachings that identify homosexual behavior as immoral. Thus, while chaplains fulfill their duty to God to preach the doctrines of their faith, they would find themselves speaking words that are in unequivocal conflict with official policies.

In fact, the proposed 'non-discrimination' law may effectively ban chaplains from expressing their religious beliefs on homosexual behavior. The affects of this ban would be felt keenly within a chaplain’s religious duties, but it would extend outside the pulpit, too. Since chaplains are tasked with teaching classes in moral leadership and ethics both on armed forces bases and at branch schools, such censorship would prevent
them from providing the full moral instruction their faith background gives them.

An additional conflict will come in the context of the armed forces’ work to preserve their members’ marriages. For example, the Army’s Strong Bonds program, which receives millions of dollars in annual funding and has successfully supported many marriages facing the unique stresses of military life, is administered solely by the chaplaincy. If homosexual conduct is normalized in the armed forces, it will only be a matter of time before homosexual couples request to participate in the Strong Bonds program. The religious beliefs of many chaplains involved in the program would not allow them to support relationships that are both harmful and sinful. Such chaplains will either have to deny their religious beliefs to comply with the “non-discrimination” policy or face the potentially career-ending consequences of a discrimination complaint when they deny the request. ...

Even if a chaplain never receives a formal complaint for exercising his religious beliefs, his career and ministry will be threatened simply by the existence of the “nondiscrimination” law. By raising homosexual behavior to the same protected status as innate, innocuous characteristics like race and gender, the armed forces will cast the sincerely held religious beliefs of many chaplains and Service members as rank bigotry
comparable to racism. ..." 3

They conclude:

"We believe that normalizing homosexual conduct in the armed forces will pose a significant threat to chaplains’ and Service members’ religious liberty. The best way to protect religious liberty—and avoid lowering widely-respected religious belief to the level of racism—is simply retaining the current policy to prevent open homosexual behavior in the armed forces. At the very least, though, Congress should include comprehensive and robust religious liberty protections in any sort of policy change. Either way, we urge you to protect religious liberty, the first and foremost of America’s fundamental freedoms. You have our prayers." 3

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This topic continues in a separate essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Tom Breen, "Retired chaplains warn against military’s ‘don’t ask’ repeal," Associated Press, 2010-OCT-30, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
  2. "Distinguished military chaplains announce opposition to overturning 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' law," Alliance Defense Fund, 2010-APR, at: http://www.alliancedefensefund.org/
  3. Letter from 66 retired chaplains, apparently updated from the original to include additional signatures, on 2010-SEP-16, at: http://oldsite.alliancedefensefund.org/ This is a PDF file.

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Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality & Bisexuality > Challenges > DADT policy > here

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Copyright © 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2010-NOV-14
Latest update: 2010-NOV-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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