The Need to Protect Rights of Conscience, Chaplains, and Military Marriage
The newly-enacted LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) Law and related policies in the military have created irreconcilable conflicts that have yet to be resolved. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees rights of conscience and religious freedom to both chaplains and military personnel. Department of Defense policy statements, however, clearly indicate that the administration intends to infringe on rights of conscience and religious liberty in the course of fully implementing LGBT law and related policies in the military.
The Center for Military Readiness and other organizations affiliated with the Military Culture Coalition appreciate the leadership of Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), who is sponsoring legislation, HR 3828, to define and protect marriage and rights of conscience in the military.
This two-page CMR Policy Analysis summarizes the substance of the legislation and why it is needed to protect the rights of both chaplains and people of faith in the military. It also includes a third page quoting excerpts of the Huelskamp bill:
The U. S. Constitution established the chaplaincy to protect the rights of religious expression among military personnel, even while they are deployed far from home. Chaplains are relatively few in number, but their role is critically important in maintaining morale, discipline, and rights of conscience in the military.
A minority of chaplains who support LGBT law in the military may express their views at all times, but those representing the majority of faith traditions face career penalties for expressing sincerely held religious or moral beliefs in situations other than worship services.
In addition, the administration has attempted to redefine the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the military, despite previous promises made to the lame-duck Congress that rushed to vote for the repeal of Section 654, the 1993 law usually called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." This makes it necessary for the 112th Congress to reaffirm congressional intent with regard to same-sex marriages or “marriage-like ceremonies” on military bases.
The Defense of Marriage Act Under Attack
As CMR reported in 2011, members of the House of Representatives approved two amendments to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that were designed to counter Pentagon efforts to circumvent the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)--a federal law that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
An intense controversy was sparked in April 2011, when the Navy Chief of Chaplains issued a memorandum authorizing training for same-sex marriages on military bases. In response to that memo, which was suspended but not revoked, Missouri Republicans Rep. Todd Akin and Rep. Vicky Hartzler sponsored amendments that would have reaffirmed congressional intent that the DOMA be enforced in the military. CMR tracked the legislation here:
The Akin and Hartzler amendments enjoyed bi-partisan support when enacted in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but Democrats in the Conference Committee insisted that the amendments be dropped. Another amendment offered by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), stated, "A military chaplain who, as a matter of conscience or moral principle, does not wish to perform a marriage, may not be required to do so."
The Wicker amendment was approved in conference committee and signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012. The legislation helped by codifying an assurance already given by the Department of Defense, but it was not sufficient to address a long list of religious liberty issues that chaplains are facing under the new LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) law.
The Military Religious Liberty Protection Act (HR 3828)
Congressman Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) has stepped up to sponsor well-crafted legislation to protect rights of conscience for chaplains and people of faith in the military.
The Huelskamp bill, called the "Military Religious Liberty Protection Act," (HR 3828), addresses issues of concern that go beyond same-sex marriage to rights of conscience and speech in other areas, such as educational programs and marriage counseling. The bill also would reaffirm congressional intent that the Defense of Marriage Act be enforced in the military, and that same-sex unions and "marriage-like ceremonies" not be permitted on military bases.
Due to the discriminatory attitudes expressed by the Defense Department in the Comprehensive Review Working Group report on implementation of the repeal, legislative action is necessary to protect the religious liberty of military personnel and chaplains. At the present time, rights of conscience are protected only for the minority of chaplains who support the mandates of LGBT law and related policies. This is not adequate, because others who support traditional marriage also should have protected rights of conscience under the U.S. Constitution, which authorizes the chaplaincy to provide for religious expression among troops fighting far from home.
The only option for chaplains who wish to express religious convictions in settings other than worship, such as educational/family programs and marriage counseling, is to revoke their sponsoring agency's endorsement and receive an honorable discharge if they are eligible to leave. Such policies are already imposing a chilling effect on chaplains, which the legislation seeks to remedy.
There is no question that chaplains will continue to minister to persons of other faiths, or individuals engaged in activities considered to be immoral. The difference is that chaplains are not required to support or approve of such conduct as a condition of service in uniform.
Justice Department Refuses Defense of the DOMA
The Defense of Marriage Act also requires reinforcement because of the Obama Administration's refusal to defend the law in court. On the afternoon of Friday, February 17−well past media deadlines for the weekend−Attorney General Eric Holder sent a two-page letter informing Congress that the department will not defend the DOMA in litigation brought by same-sex military couples seeking equal marital benefits.
The latest Holder letter is no less outrageous than the one he sent to Congress in January 2011, shortly after the repeal of Section 654, Title 10, USC. The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) repeal bill affirmed promises regarding the DOMA that the Defense Department made in order to ram the repeal bill through the 2010 lame-duck session. (It is likely that independent counsel already hired by Congress will defend the DOMA in this case as in others.)
The Center for Military Readiness has been working on this issue with several other organizations that are very concerned about discrimination against personnel and chaplains, including the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, Alliance Defense Fund, Traditional Values Coalition, Liberty Counsel, CitizenLink, Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council, and several religious organizations that endorse the majority of chaplains who serve in all branches of the armed forces.
More information on the issue is provided here:
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