U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips on Tuesday denied a request from the Department of Justice that the 17-year-old Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which prohibits homosexuals from serving openly, remain in effect through the appeals process.
A Pentagon spokesperson confirmed Oct. 19 that military recruiters were informed last Friday that the policy has been suspended following Phillips' Oct. 12 ruling, which ordered the U.S. military to "immediately" cease enforcement of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Under the Pentagon's latest directives, recruiters are not allowed to ask candidates whether they are homosexual as part of the application process, but if a candidate volunteers such information and otherwise qualifies under normal recruiting guidelines, the person's application can be processed.
On Wednesday, Oct. 20, the Department of Justice filed an emergency request with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that Don't Ask, Don't Tell should remain in effect until the matter can be resolved by Congress.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said that if Phillips' order is not reversed, "it will be a sad day for our fighting forces."
"If this is allowed to stand, this is a disgrace that we would allow judges, who have no military experience, to practice social engineering on the military," Land told Baptist Press. "The military is designed for one purpose: to fight and win wars. It's not a laboratory for social experimentation or social engineering."
Land agrees with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that if the policy is going to be changed, it should be changed by legislative action from elected officials, not by unelected judges.
"It's one more example of judicial arrogance and judicial imperialism, and I am hopeful that the government will appeal it and it will go to the Supreme Court because I don't believe the Supreme Court will uphold this decision," Land said. "And I don't think the new Congress will uphold it, the one that's going to be elected in November."
Land said he has spoken with many members of the military and, from corporals to colonels, Southern Baptists have said a reversal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell will lead to a significant number of resignations from the military.
"The all-volunteer military is disproportionally recruited from red state America, where the approval of homosexual activity is significantly less than it is in blue state America," Land said.
"The military is a different situation. You don't get to choose your housing conditions. You don't get to choose your living conditions, your bathing conditions," Land said. "And there are a good number of people who are serving who say that this will cause them to resign, it will break down unit cohesion and it will significantly retard the fighting effectiveness of our military."
Daniel Heimbach, a professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, identified a "serious question of whether the judge even has the authority to make such universal pronouncements from her level." Heimbach, who served in President George H.W. Bush's administration, was a key figure in composing the moral framework for the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Heimbach told Baptist Press that Phillips is "a federal court judge but for a district, not for the nation as a whole."
"And then there's a question of whether the courts have the constitutional authority to impose rules on the military like this," Heimbach said, "because according to Article 1 of the Constitution, Congress shall have power to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces, and that's not a power of the judiciary."
The Don't Ask, Don't Tell law itself, Heimbach said, specifically states that there is no constitutional right to serve in the armed forces. The Pentagon's instruction to recruiters, he said, is premature because such directives should only be given after the law is changed.
"I don't think the law should be changed, but you don't do step two before you do step one. So that is really upsetting the apple cart and is inconsistent," Heimbach said. "It's being driven by desires of the homosexual agenda and those who are seeking to acquiesce to that and the White House to make changes based on changing a law that hasn't been changed. I think that is procedurally, legally, as well as morally, reprehensible."
Heimbach was influential in the Southern Baptist Convention passing a resolution last June in opposition to normalizing the open presence of homosexuals in the armed forces.
"The law is doing what it was supposed to do," he said. "The real difference here is whether you think the law is doing something that is moral or whether you think it is doing something that is immoral. I think that the bottom line is it is doing something that is morally justified, both because homosexual behavior is psychologically and biologically abnormal, but also I would argue unapologetically as a Christian that it is morally wrong too.
"The military has a hard time taking a stand to justify its policy on moral grounds, but it certainly can with regard to what does or doesn't best serve its constitutionally assigned mission, which is to provide national security," Heimbach said.
The push to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell is problematic, he said, because treating homosexual behavior as normal destroys the most essential feature for the military to achieve its mission of preserving national security, which is unit cohesion.
No matter how much technology the military might have at its disposal or how many troops in its ranks, when the armed forces fail to maintain unit cohesion, the enemy will prevail, Heimbach said.
"Unit cohesion is the commitment of members of a unit to work together, to cooperate with each other and to basically put their lives at risk for each other," he said. "If members are not trusting each other and valuing each other enough to put their lives on the line for each other, they're not going to be able to win military engagements."
If the policy is changed and troops are required to treat homosexual behavior as normal, tension will follow instead of an intimate bond of trust, he said.
"Folks are concerned about whether they're being hit on or jealousies between who likes who, kind of like in your normal high school classroom between red blooded men and women," Heimbach said. "You're going to have the same kind of problem in units on the battlefield. That's why even mixing men and women together is a threat to unit cohesion. Putting homosexuals in the mix will make it even worse."
A repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Heimbach said, would surely lower the quality of military accessions.
"That means it will reduce recruiting and make military retention much harder than it is today. There are all sorts of polls that are out that talk about how many people -- if this policy is changed -- would either quit or they wouldn't join. Doing these sorts of things makes absolutely no sense at all in a dangerous world for any nation valuing national security, and it is especially foolish right now when we're in a time of global war," Heimbach said.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.
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