Kirsten Andersen

News, ,

After ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal, Senate urged to protect military’s religious freedoms

Kirsten Andersen

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 17, 2012 ( – Religious liberties activists are calling on the U.S. Senate to amend the Defense Authorization Bill to include language protecting military service members from retribution for their religious beliefs. 

Of primary concern is the need to secure protections for chaplains and service members from facing discrimination, investigations and possibly career-ending reprimands in response to deeply held religious convictions pertaining to homosexuality and same-sex “marriage.” 

In September 2011, the U.S. repealed the law known as “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” enabling homosexuals to serve openly in all branches of the military for the first time. Within weeks, the Pentagon issued two memos authorizing same-sex “marriages” to be solemnized on U.S. military installations located in states where gay weddings are legal.  Last week, the Obama administration launched a federal investigation into a Junior ROTC instructor who told a student the Bible does not support homosexuality.

According to Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) president Richard Land, there is growing pressure within the military for chaplains to serve same-sex couples.

Last Thursday, Land sent a letter to Sen. John McCain, ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, describing the religious freedom protections as “critically important.” Wrote Land, “the Pentagon’s policies actively pressure these brave men and women to choose between serving their country and holding true to their deeply-held religious faith.”

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“As House and Senate conferees finalize a conference report on the National Defense Authorization Act,” Land wrote, “we strongly urge you to include provisions that protect the rights of conscience and religious freedom, as well as the enforcement of the Defense of Marriage Act, in our military.”

The key language backed by the ERLC and other religious organizations is taken from the Military Religious Freedom Act (S. 3526/H.R. 3828). The Military Religious Freedom Act would prevent 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. The bill further provides that no service member may suffer “any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment” based on their religious beliefs.

Land is concerned that this may already be taking place.  “[T]here is growing evidence confirming that service members who hold these religious beliefs [against homosexual behavior] face discrimination and career penalties if they remain true to their consciences,” he wrote to Senator McCain. “In light of these devastating policies, we believe it necessary and urgent that Congress act to protect the religious freedom of all soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, and the chaplains who minister to them.”

The ERLC is asking the Senate to add the provisions contained in the Military Religious Freedom Act to their version of the Defense Authorization Bill. The Defense Authorization Bill passed by the House already includes the provisions, but the Senate bill does not. Currently, a House-Senate conference committee is working on bringing the two versions into accord.

If passed, the provisions would also ban same-sex “weddings” from being performed on U.S. military installations or other properties under the Department of Defense jurisdiction.  That would bring the military into compliance with the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. 

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