Rep. Akin’s office joins evangelical leaders to fight DADT repeal
A recent email from the office of Representative Todd Akin (R-MO) office lays out plans for the next battle in the implementation of the Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. A House Armed Services Committee session on May 8th will discuss amendments to the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act, which updates the military budget and policy. The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers supports atheists and humanists in the military as a primary goal, and that includes protecting our government and military from sectarian religious interests. MAAF finds the issue of gay rights in the military to be challenged exclusively by fundamentalist religious interests vying not for the right to free exercise of religion but rather for the right to free discrimination on the basis of religion. Representative Akin’s office has reinforced that perception with a recent development of amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act.
Legislative Director Justin Johnson wrote
On the chaplain/DOMA issue, the plan is to split the consensus language into two amendments: a conscience protection clause and the application of DOMA to military bases. Rep. Akin is planning to offer the conscience protection clause amendment, and Rep. Palazzo is planning to offer the DOMA on military bases amendment. We believe that having two amendments gives us the strongest hand going into conference with the Senate.
This tactic and proposed wording changes were sent to several House staffers for review and was also sent to some of the most outspoken anti-gay Christian leaders. The email was sent not to general email addresses but directly to top leaders and senior legal counsel.
- Representatives of far-right Christian endorsers of military chaplains: International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers, Associated Gospel Churches, and the (Catholic) Military Archdiocese, and the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty (CARL). CARL boasts a Statement of Common Faith in “Lordship of Jesus Christ”, among other things.
- Fundamentalist Christian advocacy organizations like the Family Research Council, the American Center for Law and Justice, National Organization for Marriage, and the Alliance Defense Fund.
- The Center for Military Readiness, a policy center created to roll back the right to serve enacted by the 1993 DADT law.
The presence, exclusively, of these anti-gay Christian organizations shows not just bias but a certain type of sectarian Christian bias. While this email might be perceived as a “religious-only” email, the inclusion of 10 staffers indicates it wasn’t just for the religious recipients. Secular military policy organizations weren’t on the line, neither were veterans organizations, or government policy organizations. Clearly, liberal and minority religious organizations weren’t included. But even conservative Christian and religious organizations weren’t included, aside from those representing the most extreme perspectives. This leaves the appearance that these amendments are intended to cater to certain religious perspectives regardless of the best interests of the public and the law. If these other military policy and diverse religious perspectives were included in policy-making or can be included in the future, Representative Akin’s office can limit the appearance of sectarian bias.
The content of the policy also shows strong consistency with the anti-gay Christian interests of those who received the email. The Pentagon has decided to allow gay marriages on bases where they are legal. The first proposed amendment would use legislation to override the Pentagon decision and apply the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to military installations, which would make gay marriage illegal even in states where it has been legalized. Hopefully future supporters of these amendments don’t need a strong record supporting states’ rights on other issues.
The “conscience protection amendment”, as these things are sometimes called, would allow military personnel specific rights to discriminate against GLBT service members. The amendment starts by protecting not actions but beliefs: “The sincerely held religious or moral beliefs of a member of the Armed Forces concerning the appropriate and inappropriate expression of human sexuality shall be accommodated and shall not be the basis of [employment discrimination]“.
So far so good. First of all, both religious and (presumably secular) moral beliefs are included. Secondly, protections against discrimination are written to protect actions, not beliefs. MAAF supports the right of individuals to believe anything and would certainly oppose any “thought police” action to criminalize certain beliefs. Chaplains may believe homosexuality to be sinful, immoral, unnatural, or perfectly healthy and natural. Even those who believe whites are racially superior to blacks or that the holocaust never happened should not be subject to sanctions simply for their beliefs. However, holding a belief does not give one the right to unregulated actions and statements. Discriminatory actions and statements may be subject to restriction in certain limited circumstances.
The second section begins, “A military chaplain shall not be directed, ordered, or required to perform any duty, rite, ritual, ceremony, service, or function that is contrary to the [conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs], of the chaplain or contrary to the [moral principles or religious beliefs] of the chaplain’s faith group.” The items in brackets are tentative language, but, again, show respect not only for “religious” beliefs but also other convictions of conscience, so that is a good start. Chaplains and other military personnel should generally not be forced to take actions that violate their conscience. Chaplains already enjoy the option to decline to give any prayer that violates their conscience, such as “non-denominational prayer”. However, the broad wording in the amendment draft could apply not just to religious but also other military ceremonies and may be too broad. Agreeing to the chaplaincy does entail an obligation to do both religious and secular work in a pluralistic military environment.
The presumed intent of the wording is simply, “chaplains will not be required to perform gay marriages.” If that were the wording, there would be no need for the legislation because chaplains are not required to perform gay marriages. The Pentagon issued a simple memorandum that gay marriages may be performed in military facilities so long as those ceremonies were private and not official military functions. Gay marriages are not required; they are simply allowed, and that freedom threatens some religious sensibilities. While there has been great concern from the chaplain community about being ‘forced’ to marry chaplains, there has been no suggestion from anyone that chaplains be forced to perform any marriage they did not want to perform. The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers would defend any chaplain who came under fire for refusing to perform a gay marriage. We already stand with those chaplains who are under fire for simply wanting the freedom to perform gay marriage.
This legislation, for the most part, legislates freedoms that already exist. Chaplains are free to believe what they like and to marry, or not marry, who they like. Chaplains also have broad accommodations to opt out of ceremonies that contradict their religious mandate, which includes the opportunity to opt out of “non-denominational prayers” if they prefer to pray only according to their faith. MAAF affirms all of these freedoms and rights. If Congress can find a compelling, legal, and non-sectarian justification to apply DOMA to military installations (or anywhere), they may choose to put forth legislation. MAAF sees no such justification. There seems only to be sectarian religious and primarily evangelical Christian influence in government policy. MAAF stands with essentially the entire atheist and humanist community, many Christians and Christian organizations, many chaplain endorsers and chaplain advocacy organizations, and loving same-sex couples in supporting marriage for all — gay and straight, military and civilian.
* ICECE is not an endorser, but represents endorser interests. Rep Akin has proposed similar legislation in the past, including in last year’s NDAA. update: The Center for Military Readiness was inoperable (5/7/2012) and continues to operate after a July 2011 allegation of fiduciary oversight issues.