Retired Military Chaplains: Don’t Touch ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

By Doug Carlson
May 12, 2010

As Congress soon wages an intense battle over its policy on homosexuals in the military, it faces the impossible task of reconciling the declines in troop morale, unit cohesion, and order in the armed forces that would inevitably result with open homosexuals in the ranks. That is reason enough to maintain the current law’s prohibition against it.

Now a band of retired military chaplains is spotlighting another area that would come under siege if the 1993 law commonly known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is overturned: religious liberty.

In an April 28 letter to President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, 40 retired military chaplains, hailing from an array of denominations, said they are “deeply concerned” that changing the law “would threaten the religious liberty of chaplains and Service members.”

Their concerns are manifold. Chaplains could, according to the dozens of retired chaplains, “be pressured by adverse discipline and collapsed careers into watering down their teachings and avoiding—if not abandoning—key elements of their sending denomination’s faith and practice.” They “might have their ability to freely share their religious beliefs challenged and torn away in a variety of everyday situations.” And they could be “effectively ban[ned]” from expressing any religious convictions whatsoever that bring into question the homosexual lifestyle.

One example of certain religious liberty infraction is in counseling. Chaplains, the letter notes, would be placed in “an untenable position” in offering guidance to homosexuals: either affirm one’s religious convictions against homosexuality and “run the risk of career-ending accusations of insubordination and discrimination” or compromise those convictions. Silence, the retired chaplains underscore, would not placate Pentagon policy. Chaplains refusing to counsel in such situations “may still face discipline for discrimination.”

An additional concern raised is that current and future chaplains would be required to sign their name in agreement with a “non-discrimination” policy that would put them at odds with their religious beliefs against homosexuality.

That only scratches the surface of religious liberty concerns. “Put most simply,” wrote the retired chaplains, “if the government normalizes homosexual behavior in the armed forces, many (if not most) chaplains will confront a profoundly difficult moral choice: whether they are to obey God or to obey men.” The net effect, as the chaplains caution, would be a loss of religious liberty among all servicemen and women.

The letter came just two days prior to further comment by the Pentagon. In a sharply worded April 30 letter, Secretary Gates told Congress he “strongly opposes” changing the 1993 law prior to a review of the current policy, which is expected to be completed in December. This is a shift in tone from Secretary Gates, who, in February along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, pledged support for repealing the 1993 law and announced a working group toward that end.

But it is no admission of backing down from repeal. For his part, President Obama remains “unequivocal” in his support for repealing the law, according to a White House statement. “This is not a question of if, but how.”

And many in Congress, facing intense pressure from the gay and lesbian community, hope to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” sooner rather than later. Prior to Memorial Day, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are expected to consider such legislation, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (H.R. 1283/S. 3065), which could be attached to the Defense Authorization bill.

Meanwhile, the 40 retired military chaplains do not stand alone. They join more than 1,100 retired Flag & General Officers for the Military who have spoken out in support of the law against homosexuals serving in the military. What this helps to demonstrate is that many chaplains, servicemen, and officers currently serving in the military feel constrained from speaking out in support of the law. Thankfully other patriots, now retired from duty, feel at liberty to break the silence.

If you agree, please contact your congressman and senators and urge them to oppose efforts to repeal the 1993 law known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

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