Beliefnet
Religion & Public Life With Mark Silk

The Defense Department’s superb report
on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell includes an interesting contrast between the
racial integration of the U.S. military in the late 1940s and early
1950s and the current homosexual integration. Then, when the military
was out in front of the rest of the country, the chaplaincy corps was
strongly supportive of integration. Now, many military chaplains
“express opposition in religious terms to
allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military.”
 
What’s changed? Back then, most military chaplains were mainline
Protestants and Catholic clergy whose racial views were at the liberal
end of the spectrum. Today, the chaplaincy is dominated by white
evangelicals–the only religious grouping in America opposed
to gays serving in the military. Of course, it would be
unacceptable–indeed, a violation of the Establishment Clause–for the
government to allow DADT to continue on religious grounds.

Unsurprisingly, DADT supporters in the military would like to wrap
themselves in the Free Exercise Clause–as in the following statement
quoted in the report:

“If the state favors the demands of the homosexual
activists over the First Amendment, it is only a matter of time before
the military censors the religious expression of its chaplains and
marginalizes denominations that teach what the Bible says about
homosexual behavior.”

But chaplains are not obliged to serve in the military, and
their religious rights are not the same as they would be if they were
civilians. They are hired by the government to serve the free exercise
needs of those in uniform.

Those chaplains who told the drafters of the report that they “would
refuse to in any way support, comfort, or assist someone they knew to be
homosexual” should seek another place of employment. As the report
properly declares, if DADT is repealed, the DOD must “direct the
Services to reiterate the principle that chaplains, in the context of
their religious ministry, are not required to take actions inconsistent
with their religious beliefs, but must still care for all Service
members. Evaluation, promotion, and assignment of chaplains must
continue to be consistent with these long-standing Service policies.”
 
Tension between evangelical chaplains and the military is longstanding,
as historian Anne Loveland has demonstrated in her book, American Evangelicals and the U.S. Military, 1942-1993.
The persistent impulse to proselytize has always been at odds with the
requirement that chaplains respect the spiritual needs of those whose
beliefs differ from their own. The idea that some would refuse to help a
known homosexual is no less unacceptable.

What’s disturbing is not that there should be a significant number of
chaplains who oppose homosexuality on religious grounds. It’s that they
should fail to grasp that their desire to promote an anti-homosexual
viewpoint is an inappropriate basis for keeping gays in the military
closet. In a country where anti-sodomy laws have been declared
unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, where many states and
municipalities prohibit discrimination against gays, where civil unions
and same-sex marriages are increasingly the law of the land, and where
Americans by a more than 2-1 majority support the right of homosexuals
to serve openly in the military, the readiness of chaplains to impose
their minority morality betrays a strange, sectarian view of the
country’s armed forces.

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