Last week, 41 veteran chaplains sent a letter to President Obama enumerating the many and serious religious liberty concerns with the administration’s plans to normalize homosexual behavior in the armed forces. Almost immediately, a chorus of critics responded, branding the carefully crafted letter of the chaplains—who have a long and distinguished record of service in the all branches of the armed forces—as “insulting” and “illogical.”
Perhaps such criticisms were made before the critics had taken the time to read the prayerfully considered and carefully researched letter that the chaplains released. Or the three accompanying personal letters written by a few of the signatories briefly outlining what it said. More charitably, perhaps the critics simply don’t understand the chaplains’ letter. Either way, it’s important to ensure no one is misled by the criticisms.
For starters, the letter is not an attempt to protect squeamish Christians from having to deal with people who disagree with them on sexual morality. That should have been clear just by reading the biographies of the signatories included at the end of the letter. These are men who have defended American liberties in almost every major modern conflict, from Vietnam to Afghanistan. They’ve faced snipers’ bullets and terrorist IEDs, so they’re not afraid of ministering to people with whom they disagree. The chaplains said as much in their letter:
“To clarify, we are not saying that active-duty chaplains who share our beliefs would be unwilling to minister to those who engage in homosexual behavior. To the contrary, we believe that God loves everyone, that He desires that everyone should hear of and receive the Truth, and that He calls us to speak that Truth.”
The chaplains, and those who share their beliefs, are willing to minister to whoever needs their ministry, including individuals who engage in homosexual conduct. They’re just not willing to allow political correctness to dictate the terms of their ministry. Politicizing the military may be acceptable to those who are willing to place their agenda over the First Amendment, but chaplains will not allow the Good News to become a politically-correct gospel.
Next, some have suggested that normalizing homosexual behavior won’t hurt religious liberty because the military hasn’t forced chaplains to accept an official doctrine on moral issues like abortion, spousal abuse or gambling. This rejoinder, though, lacks both factual accuracy and logical coherence. Factually, the military did try to censor chaplains on one side of the abortion debate during the partial-birth abortion battle at the behest of the Clinton administration. (The letter addressed exactly this troubling bit of history in footnotes 7 and 16.) And logically, the current push to normalize homosexual behavior will make it a special issue set apart from the concerns like domestic violence in at least two ways.
First, the military currently agrees with the chaplaincy that domestic abuse is bad; in fact, the Uniform Code of Military Justice outlaws such assault. But in the case of normalizing homosexual behavior, the military’s moral code will be at direct odds with that of many of its chaplains. Second, no one is attempting to make domestic abuse a special class of protected behavior against which discrimination is banned. But as the chaplains point out in the first paragraph of their letter, the current push to repeal the military prohibition on open homosexual conduct will give such conduct the same protections enjoyed for race and gender—that is, discriminating on the basis of homosexual behavior will be forbidden.
While proponents of these special protections (and they are many, since the pending legislation in both the House and Senate is well-supported by the Left) may want to hide their harm to religious liberty, the carnage is obvious from how similar laws have been enforced in civil society. The chaplains made that clear on page 4 of their letter, citing example after example of how such “non-discrimination” laws have been used to attack religious liberty.
In an attempt to hide the coming danger, Interfaith Alliance suggests that the chaplains’ concerns are overblown because “people can disagree on issues and still serve together.” But such rosy predictions—which weren’t backed by any evidence—simply ignores the predicament of people like Julea Ward, a top-level graduate student, represented by the Alliance Defense Fund in a lawsuit, who was kicked out of her counseling program at a government school just a month from graduation because her religious beliefs prevented her from affirming homosexual behavior. Or people like Marcia Walden, also represented by ADF, who was fired at the behest of a federal government entity for simply referring a client requesting counsel on a same-sex sexual relationship to another counselor. Or people like William Akridge, a prison chaplain who was formally reprimanded because he wouldn’t allow an inmate who openly claimed to be “gay” to lead the choir. Or of innumerable other situations where religious liberty has been assaulted in order to protect homosexual conduct.
And in the context of the military, where discipline is absolutely necessary and dissent is rarely allowed, these types of “government policy versus religious freedom” battles are going to be brutal. Those who make the “live and let live” argument, then, are either not paying attention or are purposefully hiding the truth.
Of course, that a conflict exists is no surprise to those who are really paying attention on either side of the issue. As a senior Obama administration official has said, the conflict between religious liberty and homosexual conduct is a “zero sum game” where one side must lose. (Yes, this is in the letter, too. Check out footnote 14. She went on to say that “we should similarly not tolerate private beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity.”) Based on this, it’s a serious question whether this administration prefers homosexual conduct to time-honored First Amendment rights. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as obvious as it should be, especially given the administration’s apparently weak record defending religious liberty elsewhere.
If an argument is strong, critics will often reframe the issue as something that can be attacked more easily. Here, that’s what critics of the 41 chaplains have done. And that says a lot about how right the 41 chaplains are.