ADF: not allowing anti-gay chaplains to dictate policy is unconstitutional
February 19th, 2010
One of the things I truly hate about political advocacy is the tendency of activists to veer towards hyperbole. The “what if” exceptions become the arguments of likelihood or commonality. The minor and slightly inconvenient are expressed in terms of extreme hardship or catastrophic abuse.
But sometimes claims and statements reach beyond rhetoric and oratorical posturing and jump straight to the irrational or the bizarre. And the claims made by the anti-gay legal advocacy group, Alliance Defense Fund, about the unconstitutionality of allowing gay men and women to serve openly in the military are an example.
On Wednesday, ADF issued a letter to President Obama and Secretary of Defense Gates stating their position:
… if Chaplains with beliefs that contradict the proposed policy [allowing service of openly gay men and women] are kept from roles that are likely to generate conflict – like preaching or counseling – then they, the faith groups they represent, and the soldiers whose religious beliefs they serve will all be marginalized. The military would effectively establish preferred religions or religious beliefs. This is a Constitutional offense that carries a very pragmatic consequence: just what will happen to recruiting efforts if Christians become second-class soldiers, sailors, airmen, or Marines.
Setting aside the atrocious grammar, misspellings and errors that are abundant in this letter, let’s look at the logic which ADF displayed. Here is their argument:
- Obama and Mullen seek to overturn a policy which “that prohibits open homosexual behavior while serving in the military.”
- To “affirm homosexual behavior” is to “for the first time in history espouse a military policy that is completely at odds with the morality expressed by many of its chaplains.” (emphasis in original)
- Chaplains have to “abide by applicable laws, and all applicable regulations, directives, and instructions of the Department of Defense and of the Military Department” and also they must represent “specific religious denominations, and are accountable in their ministries to those groups.” But because “orthodox Christianity” does not “affirm homosexual behavior”, then “chaplains with contrary religious beliefs will be forced to choose ‘to obey God or men.'”
- Chaplains would lose the right to deny sacraments, counsel their beliefs, or to preach in opposition to homosexual behavior. They would be forced to “allow soldiers openly engaged in homosexual behavior to lead worship services or serve in other lay leadership roles.”
- This would lead to soldiers being denied the right to worship: “If chaplains are limited in teaching and counseling on their beliefs, then the soldiers who share their faith and rely on their instruction will
necessarily also suffer a diminished ability to freely exercise their faith.”
This is so nutty that I can’t help but wonder if they even really sent this; surely they know that it would be an embarrassment.
First, the policy has nothing to do with “homosexual behavior”. Anti-gay activists always term their opposition in language of “behavior”, seeking to link every gay issue to “wiggling a penis in excrement“. The way that they get around this military ban being on identity is to define the act of identifying oneself as gay as being “homosexual behavior”. And a change in policy to allow open service has nothing to do with “affirmation.” The military allows its personnel many freedoms that they never “affirm.”
And, as ADF well knows, chaplains are free to preach according to their faith, to counsel on whatever they believe is appropriate, and to encourage such standards of personal morality as they think are appropriate. Any chaplain would be free to tell a soldier, “I think you should give up homosexual sex” just as freely as he is able to tell him, “I think you should give up premarital sex”, or “I think you should give up drinking.” To claim otherwise is disingenuous.
Our military is religiously diverse. And chaplains have found ways to minister to those who disagree on a whole host of issues without having to choose ‘to obey God or men.’
No Catholic chaplain is required to offer sacraments to Wiccans. No Baptist chaplain is required to say the prayers at Seder. Lutheran chaplains need not discuss the truths found in the Book of Mormon, and Pentecostals need not hear confession. But yet they all find a way to meet the spiritual needs – and often just the need for a sympathetic ear and comforting counsel – of folks whom their doctrines declare to be godless sinners dangling over the fires of hell.
It is an insult to chaplains to assume that they can work with Muslims and atheists and newly-converted pacifists, can counsel agnostics and Greek Orthodox and Reform Jews, can worship with Quakers and Pentecostals and Seventh Day Adventists all without losing their religious freedoms, but if a gay person is in the camp then it all goes out the window.
And finally, the ADF makes the outlandish assumption that the military must accommodate the anti-gay chaplains without any concern for pro-gay chaplains. They ignore the hundreds of chaplains from mainline Christianity or Judaism who believe in civil equality as a matter of the justice provisions of their faith.
Truly, they have it backwards. To establish military policy to accommodate the religious teachings of anti-gay chaplains while disdaining the religious teachings of others, would be an act of establishing religion. To say that we cannot allow gay people in the military because some chaplains are entitled to dictate the military’s official theology would be an unconscionable slur on the intents and purposes of the First Amendment.