Pentagon Pride Celebration Should be Optional

“Evangelical soldiers, airmen, Marines, they’re going to have to make some courageous stands right now to say to their commanders, ‘Sir, I cannot participate in this type of ceremony because we believe this is a celebration of something that God’s Word is clear about defining as wrong,'” Ron Crews, CH (COL) Ret. and Exec. Dir. of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty.

The quote above was provided by Ron Crews in an effort to denounce the upcoming gay pride celebrations at the Pentagon. Crews is a retired chaplain and heads the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, a group that requires of its members an attestation that, among other things, “The Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God in the original languages and the absolute standard for moral conduct.” Crews and his colleagues have been outspoken against the repeal of DADT.

Fortunately we do not have a situation in which people, for religious reasons, are choosing not to honor women or minority races. Unfortunately, we do have a situation in which military personnel are disdainful of their colleagues on the basis of sexual orientation. The honorable concept of free expression of religion shows its dark side when teachings against homosexuality result in divisions in our military. While we should not encourage these divisions, it may be prudent to offer the evangelical community space to consider its attitudes and sensibilities as the rest of the military takes time to end discrimination and honor the silent service so many lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) service members have endured for so long.

We should expect those with anti-gay religious beliefs to object when their military leaders accept and support LGB service members. Open service for LGB service members is really still in progress. If someone cannot serve with women or African Americans then they are simply not welcome in the military. The DOD implementation policy for repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) does not allow for the early discharge of service members who object to the inclusion of LGB personnel in the ranks (Chapter IV, para 11). While no one has sued for that right, there may be justification to allow anti-gay troops to leave for the good of the service, at least for the first year or two after the repeal.

In the case of the Pentagon Pride festival, they are not simply serving with others, but celebrating LGBT service members and at least to a certain extent, they are celebrating the LGBT community. In an inspiring video message, Secretary Panetta billed the event as a celebration of service, equality, and GLBT pride. To provide for a less rocky transition, it makes sense to allow any service member with religious objections the opportunity to opt out of any Pride events.

The DOD Implementation and Sustainment Plan states in the Q and A section, Question #7, “There will not be any modifications or revisions to policy regarding service members’ protections and obligations with respect to free speech and free expression of religion.” Chapter IV, para 14-B references a, “focus on behaviors rather than private attitudes.” What this means is that anti-gay beliefs are tolerated but anti-gay behavior will not be tolerated and would be considered harassment. While LGB citizens have been afforded the right to serve the nation, anti-gay service members have no less and no more protection than they have ever had under the 1st Amendment of the Constitution and Military Law.

“I don’t believe any service member will be required to participate in Pride events against their will.  Any perceived need to “opt out” is a non-issue, one likely raised by Chaplain Ron Crews and his alliance for “Liberty” as part of a well-financed and orchestrated stall, delay and obstruct strategy.” – Paul Dodd, Co-Chair of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy, an advocacy group supporting diversity in the military for LGBT service members and other minority groups.

The fallacy here is that Crews is declaring a problem when there isn’t one. There’s no evidence at all that the Pride festival will be mandatory. This is also ironic given that Crews advocates for sectarian Christian prayers to captive military audiences at mandatory, official events, with no opportunity to opt out. Crews has railed against the possibility that chaplains will be forced to perform gay marriages, but, again, that is another imaginary problem. Chaplains are not now and will not in the future be forced to perform any marriages.

The question is whether anti-gay religious beliefs are tolerated in the military. For better or worse, they are. Even anti-gay preaching may be permissible to the extent it is done within the confines of faith-based counseling and worship services. Crews should confine his objections to the real restrictions that he wants to circumvent, namely that he and his colleagues are not allowed to make their Statement of Common Faith – one that promotes fundamentalist evangelical and anti-gay Christianity – the Statement of Common Faith for the entire US military. That is and should be a restriction on his freedom to inflict his religion on the entire military.


Note: LGB refers to Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual. Other designations may add LGBT or LGBTQQI to identify gender identity and sexual orientation like Transgender. These additional designations are not yet accommodated by the military.

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