The U.S. Department of Justice had filed an emergency appeal with the Ninth Circuit on behalf of the Pentagon after U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ruled Oct. 12 that the law is unconstitutional and enforcement of it must cease.
"The order is stayed temporarily in order to provide this court with an opportunity to consider fully the issues presented," a three-judge panel stated late Wednesday, adding that both sides have until Oct. 25 to file additional paperwork.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, noted that the Ninth Circuit is the most liberal appeals court in the country, yet the judges ruled against the immediate suspension of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
"This shows that even the Ninth Circuit has rational moments when it comes to judicial hubris and imperialism, and they have wisely stayed this dangerous and rash decision until they have time to adjudicate it and come to a decision," Land told Baptist Press. "So the military has a temporary respite from the judicial attempts at social engineering with our nation's military. We should all be grateful."
In earlier comments to Baptist Press, Land said Don't Ask, Don't Tell has worked, "and we don't need to be experimenting with our armed forces when we're involved in two wars."
In a news release Oct. 21, the Defense Department said it supports the appeals court decision and wants time for a deliberative long-range look at any changes in Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
"For the reasons stated in the government's submission, we believe a stay is appropriate," Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said.
Marine Corps Col. David Lapan, also of the Defense Department, said the Pentagon is working on new guidelines regarding homosexuals serving in the military which he expected to be announced sometime Thursday.
After Phillips' Oct. 12 ruling, the Pentagon had informed recruiters that they were to accept applications for service from homosexuals. Now that the Ninth Circuit has intervened, the military at least temporarily can return to its policy of prohibiting homosexuals from serving openly.
Pentagon officials told NBC News on Thursday the military will immediately resume enforcement of the 1993 law.
"We have expressed our concern to the Obama administration that overturning the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy would represent a great threat to religious liberty within the military," Chaplain (Col.) Keith Travis, chaplain team leader for the North American Mission Board, told Baptist Press. Travis is retired from the U.S. Army.
"Our desire is that our chaplains will be able to give soldiers the full counsel of Scripture. Overturning DADT puts that ability in jeopardy. Beyond our chaplains, the religious freedom of our soldiers will also be at risk. Our chaplains will continue serving God and serving our soldiers, but we are concerned about the chaos these new developments are causing," Travis said.
The motion filed by the Justice Department Oct. 20 said Phillips' injunction "risks causing significant immediate harm to the military and its efforts to be prepared to implement an orderly repeal of the statute."
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has established a working group to examine the ramifications of a possible repeal of the law, the Defense Department noted, and the group is scheduled to submit its report Dec. 1.
"The review that is going on would look at all the far-ranging impacts of what changing the law would mean," Lapan said.
A long-range plan for repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the Pentagon said, would include a period of transition to conduct training to ensure that everyone within the military and wishing to join was informed about new policies and procedures.
"In the current environment with the stay, you don't have the time to go through all these processes and make sure you determine what effect this has on housing, benefits, training on individuals across the board," Lapan said before the Ninth Circuit intervened.
If the issue could be decided in Congress rather than the courts, he said, the Defense Department would have "the chance to study the impacts, to get the input from the force and to make adjustments and changes before an abrupt change in the law occurs."
Daniel Heimbach, a professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina, has spoken strongly against a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. 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.
"It will undermine unit cohesion, it will undermine good order and discipline, it will undermine faith and trust of junior personnel in military leaders and it will increase medical costs in the services," Heimbach said of repealing the law.
"In study after study after study, it's a well-known fact that where you have homosexual behavior affecting a community, medical costs are much higher because it involves behaviors that are much higher level health risks."
The push to change the military policy on homosexual service, Heimbach said, is being driven by homosexual activists and those who seek to acquiesce to their agenda, including the White House.
The Obama administration is in a legal quandary whereby the president has vowed to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell but because the courts are taking up the issue instead of the legislative or executive branch, the administration must advocate at least for its temporary reinstatement.
Heimbach said differences surrounding Don't Ask, Don't Tell are based on "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," Heimbach said.
To read Heimbach's fuller assessment of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell controversy, see the Oct. 20 BP story http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=33902.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.
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