Mounting religious liberty concerns in “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” attack grow with new revelations from active-duty chaplain

Daniel Blomberg Legal Counsel, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
Font Size:

The harm to military religious liberty posed by the possible dismantling of the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is only recently starting to get the kind of attention it needs.  If the military is forced to normalize homosexual conduct, service members’ religious beliefs that such conduct is immoral and harmful will likely be a casualty of the political push to radically alter military personnel policy.  This likelihood is demonstrated by the nationwide assaults on religious belief in the civilian world and by new evidence from an active-duty chaplain that is being revealed for the first time here.

Not surprisingly, those who have fought the hardest to protect service members’ religious liberty against the normalized homosexual behavior are the same men who have given decades of their lives to the service of that liberty:  chaplains.  In April, 41 veteran chaplains—men who have ministered to our troops in battlegrounds ranging from Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan—signed a letter outlining the harm to religious liberty.  These include censorship of sermons, counseling, and ethical teaching; forced changes to religious services and programs; and the marginalization of chaplains and service members with orthodox religious beliefs.  A major vehicle for these harms, they warned, would be discrimination complaints, which would effectively end chaplains’ careers and thus censor their ministry.

And now new evidence has come to light that these concerns are true.

Since the beginning of the most recent round of this debate, the militaries of foreign countries that have allowed homosexual behavior to be practiced openly have been touted as proof that the U.S. military can adopt their practices and still be an effective fighting force.  But a recent account from an active-duty U.S. chaplain working with one of those militaries shows religious liberty will not fare well in the face of normalized homosexual conduct.

The U.S. military operates what might best be called an “exchange program” that allows chaplains to become functioning members of foreign military chaplaincies.  One such U.S. chaplain—whose name and the distinctive aspects of his service must be withheld to avoid censure—recently discovered when his faith contradicts the military’s endorsement of homosexuality.

A junior officer approached the chaplain with numerous questions about Christianity, and they talked for hours about a wide range of subjects, including a brief discussion about orthodox Christianity’s stance on homosexual behavior.  The officer left satisfied.  Later, though, a more senior officer berated the chaplain publicly for his religious perspective on homosexual behavior.  This officer threatened him, saying that if the chaplain had not been a U.S. service member, he would certainly have been written up for “harassment.”

Later, a female service member was brought to the chaplain for help regarding relationship issues with her same-sex partner.  The chaplain happily provided emotional support and sought administrative solutions so that she could return to her duties.  After the situation was resolved, she met with the chaplain for follow-up counseling during which she asked how she might have a healthier relationship with her partner.  He explained that, in this instance, since his faith teaches that no homosexual relationship can be healthy because it is innately against the will of God, he would instead help her find another chaplain who could counsel her if she would like.  Her response?  She said she knew of his beliefs and that she was willing to seek counsel from him anyway because she trusted him.

But when he later explained his decision to his supervising chaplaincy officer, the officer ominously warned him that he should be careful who he talked to honestly about his beliefs and that he shouldn’t discuss them in an open public forum.  The officer particularly cautioned him to keep silent about those beliefs in an upcoming chaplaincy-wide meeting because one of the senior chaplains, who openly self-identified as “gay,” would not tolerate open statements about orthodox religious belief on homosexual behavior.

This foreign military’s enforced silence on the subject is a one-way street.  Those whose religious beliefs supported homosexual behavior were welcome to widely express them.  In fact, required reading for the chaplaincy-wide meeting included materials extolling the virtues of encouraging homosexual couples to participate in church leadership, and one of the meeting’s featured speakers openly discussed pro-homosexual theological views.  No alternative official forums were allowed to teach the orthodox view on sexual ethics, even though the majority of the chaplains were from faith groups that held this view.

A number of lessons can be drawn from this U.S. chaplain’s experience in a military with normalized homosexual behavior—and almost all of them were predicted by the 41 chaplains in their letter to President Obama.

First, chaplains are more than willing to minister to those who engage in homosexual behavior; they’re just not willing to allow the military to dictate the terms of that ministry.

Second, orthodox Christian belief will not be tolerated in a military that condones homosexual behavior.  If a chaplain—whose job is to provide religious counseling to service members asking for it—is not free to provide his religious views on the subject—even when asked—without being threatened and punished, then certainly no service member can expect to have that liberty.

Third, if private one-on-one counseling with a service member specifically inquiring about orthodox belief can generate an official backlash, then public orthodox teaching and religious services will not be allowed to teach orthodox sexual ethics.

Fourth, normalizing homosexual behavior will not be to make the military and the Chaplaincy Corps neutral or silent about the subject, but rather to make the military an advocate for homosexual behavior that discriminates against dissenters.

Fifth, and particularly in the Chaplaincy Corps, those who hold orthodox religious beliefs—whether they be Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim—will be marginalized and silenced while those with leftist religious views will be endorsed and promoted.

The conclusion?  The military will establish a preferred religion.  And since the issue of sexual ethics is almost invariably connected to a wide variety of beliefs—like the authority of Scripture, the identity of God, and the role of the family—the newly established religion will necessarily disfavor most “conservative” believers.

Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.  While some commentators are eager to provide assurances that normalized homosexual behavior and sincerely-held religious belief can peacefully co-exist, all the evidence shows they are simply wrong.  Not only has a top member of the Obama administration explicitly admitted that a conflict exists between religious belief and homosexual behavior (one in which she says religious liberty should always lose), and an Army War College professor identified the conflict as one of the “significant issues” surrounding repeal, but that experiment has already failed nationwide.

For instance, when the District of Columbia recently fabricated same-sex “marriage,” they immediately ordered the Catholic ministry that had been providing adoption services in D.C. for a century to either start placing children with same-sex couples or stop providing adoption services period.  And when a Methodist ministry in New Jersey declined to allow its property to be used for a same-sex “commitment ceremony,” it was dragged before the state’s human rights commission and punished for simply exercising its faith on its own property.

Individual Christians have also found that their faith must bend the knee to demands by homosexual activists.  For instance, Julea Ward, a top graduate student, was kicked out of her counseling program at a government school just before graduation when, based on her religious beliefs, she refused professors’ demands to affirm homosexual behavior.  Marcia Walden 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.  And William Akridge, a prison chaplain, was formally reprimanded because he welcomed an inmate who openly claimed to be “gay” to attend worship services but wouldn’t give in to the inmate’s demands to lead services.

Since homosexual behavior is not a morally or religiously neutral subject (unlike, for instance, race), forcing the military to normalize that behavior will have significant effects on the morality and religion of our service members.  If anything, given the military’s unique demands for strict discipline and low threshold for dissent, the assault on service members’ religious liberty will be even worse.  That was certainly the experience of the active-duty U.S. chaplain discussed here.

Like a point man on patrol, our Chaplaincy Corps will likely be the first to draw fire if the current military policy is dismantled.  And thus, like a point man on patrol who wants to protect himself and the men relying on him, chaplains are the ones sounding the alarm of the danger ahead.  Hopefully, politicians will listen.  Hopefully, the rights of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines—the same rights they fight and die to protect for us—will not be sacrificed to accomplish a political agenda.

Daniel Blomberg serves as litigation counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, (www.telladf.org), a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.