Saturday, June 4, 2011

Religious Freedom and Military Chaplains

We've heard a lot of complaints from conservatives that repealing DADT is somehow unfair to military chaplains, as it will prevent them from speaking their beliefs. As the Advocate tells us,
Last week an attorney with the conservative legal group Alliance Defense Fund threatened legal action if Congress does not expressly prohibit same-sex weddings at military chapels or other Defense Department facilities. The legal group has also demanded that military chaplains be barred from performing such ceremonies in their official capacities; allowing them to officiate at same-sex weddings would violate the Defense of Marriage Act, they argue.
But Capt. John F. Gundlach, a retired Navy chaplain and member of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy, has taken them on.
Chaplains have always had the right to preach according to the tenets of the religious bodies that endorse them — and they still will. Will anti-gay chaplains be forced to conduct same-sex weddings in military chapels? Of course not. They will continue to conduct rites and sacraments as allowed by their religious bodies. And the same principle applies to conducting religious education and pastoral counseling. The one thing that every chaplain is required to do, regardless of their religious perspectives, is care for everyone. If these chaplains can’t minister to gay and lesbian service members themselves, they are obligated to refer them to another chaplain who can.

So where is the threat to religious freedom? And where could their right to free speech be limited? It will no longer be acceptable to speak about fellow gay and lesbian service members in demeaning ways in the workplace and other public settings. The fact that this has ever been acceptable by anyone anywhere, but especially by chaplains, is regrettable. And chaplains from the religious groups who are now demanding protection from discrimination have been some of the worst offenders. They, and others who agree with them, may continue to think and believe what they want, but outside of those areas where their religious speech is protected, they may now have to keep their bigotry to themselves.

I agree that religious freedom is a precious right that we must hold inviolate. It is a right that all service members serve to defend, and which all should be able to enjoy. By all, I mean those who are religiously liberal as well as those who are conservative, and by those who are gay as well as straight. Are ADF and the religious groups they represent as willing to defend the same rights and protections for others they claim for themselves? Are they as willing to acknowledge the right of chaplains from gay-friendly denominations to perform gay weddings in military chapels? And are they as willing to speak up for those who suffer discrimination because they are gay? If not, their pleas for special protection from discrimination for themselves are self-serving and unworthy of consideration.
Incidentally, as you may or may not know, in April the Presiding Bishop joined with a group of retired chaplains and other churches in a Friends of the Court (amicus) brief in the ongoing DADT case, which argued that continuing DADT infringes on the religious liberty of those who are supportive of LGBT people. The Presiding Bishop said the Episcopal Church
“has a long history of supporting the inclusion and fair treatment of gay and lesbian persons within the Church and in society. That position extends to the right of such persons to serve this country, openly and with pride, in all of its many offices and positions, including service in our Armed Forces. The Church’s interest in [this case] stems in significant part from the Church’s extensive experience with endorsing male and female members of the Church’s ordained clergy for service as chaplains to members of the Armed Forces in this country and abroad, in peace-time and in conflict, in battle and behind the lines.”


Grandmère Mimi said...

A fine statement by Capt Gundlach. These "persecuted" Christian military chaplains should visit certain areas of the Middle East and Africa to see real persecution of Christians, and perhaps they'd stop their pathetic whining.

JCF said...

Off-topic (sort of), and for your discussion:

Money quote (question):

"I wonder if the Coalition on Human Needs would permit a racist organization to be a board member. Or is anti-gay animus somehow less offensive...?"

Fred Schwartz said...