‘Don’t Ask’ repeal’s 1st anniversary shows need to protect religious liberty

By Doug Carlson
Sep 20, 2012

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy officially taking effect, thereby allowing homosexuals to serve in the military openly for the first time in our nation’s history. The Sept. 20 action, a memory not celebrated by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, signaled just the beginning of a slide toward normalizing homosexuality in the military.

Days after that landmark policy change of 2011, on Sept. 30, the Pentagon doubled down on efforts to accommodate homosexuals in the armed forces by issuing a pair of memos authorizing same-sex “marriage” ceremonies on military installations and giving chaplains the green light to perform them.

Now, a year later, those controversial decisions have triggered an escalating battle: the need to protect chaplains and service members from being pressured to set aside their religious convictions against homosexuality. And the U.S. Capitol is serving as the theater of action.

Last week, recognizing the potentially dangerous implications of the 2011 policy shifts, Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Jim Inhofe (R-OK) introduced the Military Religious Freedom Protection Act of 2012 (S. 3526). The aim of the bill is twofold: to protect freedom of religion and conscience for service members and chaplains and to ban same-sex ceremonies from military installations.

This would serve as much-needed legislative reinforcement against an encroachment on the military’s constitutionally-protected religious freedom. It would also help realign the military with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law that defines marriage as only the union between a man and a woman.

Among its specific components, the Military Religious Freedom Protection Act would protect chaplains from being forced “to perform any duty, rite, ritual, ceremony, service, or function that is contrary to the conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the chaplain” or the chaplain’s endorsing faith group. Under the measure, neither a chaplain’s refusal to participate in such an activity nor a service member’s expression of convictions against homosexuality could be the basis for “any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment.”

The bill would also bring the military into compliance with DOMA. Under the bill, no military installation or any other property under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense could be used “to officiate, solemnize, or perform a marriage or marriage-like ceremony involving anything other than the union of one man with one woman.”

Lawmakers in the House have already taken steps in this direction. In May, the House included the language of the Military Religious Freedom Protection Act, first introduced in the House by Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) as H.R. 3828, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013. That was approved 299-120. The Senate, however, has not yet considered the measure, either as a stand-alone bill or as part of the defense authorization bill.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has been vocal concerning the growing threats to religious freedom in the military. Most recently, in June, the SBC formally called upon lawmakers to secure conscience protections for the military.

“The United States military is currently engaged in efforts to normalize homosexual behavior in the armed services, threatening the ability of chaplains to perform ministry according to the dictates of their consciences and the teachings of their faith,” states a resolution entitled “On Protecting Religious Liberty,” approved overwhelmingly by messengers to the SBC’s annual meeting.

“[W]e wholeheartedly support the ministry of chaplains in the United States military and call on the Obama administration to instruct our military leaders to ensure the freedom of chaplains to minister to members of the armed services according to the dictates of the chaplains’ consciences without fear or coercion,” the resolution continues.

It goes on to “express our deepest appreciation for every person who serves in the armed services of our nation and call on the Obama administration to guarantee the right of those who have volunteered to serve to express their religious convictions about homosexual behavior without fear of reprisal.”

The brave men and women serving on the frontlines in defense of our freedoms deserve nothing less than full protection of those freedoms as well. That includes the First Amendment’s freedom of religion. The Military Religious Freedom Protection Act offers a clear response to this embattled freedom.

If you agree, please contact your senators and urge them to cosponsor the Military Religious Freedom Protection Act of 2012 (S. 3526) and call for a vote on this bill to protect the freedom of religion and conscience among chaplains and service members.

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