Military religious leaders report pressure, backlash over beliefs

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  • 09/21/2022

In the era of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a number of support groups advocated for gay service members who feared backlash for speaking freely. But the repeal of the ban in late 2011 has not ushered in a new era of free speech; rather, now it is chaplains who say they are being muzzled by the military and a group has formed to pass legislation seeking relief on their behalf.

Army religious leaders were reassured in a 2011 briefing on the repeal prepared by their Army Chief of Chaplains that they would not have to alter their sermons or their faith systems in light of new policy. At the same time, the chaplains were reminded that they would be required to minister to all troops and advised that, if they had irreconcilable problems with the new status quo, they would be free to end their careers and leave the service.

Now, the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, a coalition of retired chaplains formed to support their active-duty counterparts in such situations, told Human Events it has
collected anecdotal reports from a number of chaplains who say they have felt pressure from command leaders regarding how they express their beliefs about homosexuality.

The Alliance said that one chaplain was threatened with early retirement and moved to a new assignment after forwarding an email to subordinates containing reflections on the DADT policy. Another chaplain told the Alliance he was stripped of his authority over a military base chapel for refusing to open it to same-sex marriage services.

The Pentagon issued a ruling in the wake of DADT’s repeal that says a chapel can be used for same-sex marriage services, but that the chaplain does not have to preside. At the same time, the Pentagon says that same-sex couples who marry while in the military are not eligible for spousal benefits, including housing and health care. So, the Federal Defense of Marriage Act applies in all military situations except for use of the chapel.

Pressure to conform

One currently serving chaplain, who spoke to Human Events on the condition of anonymity, told a similar story of pressure to conform. He declined to give his name citing fear of reprisal; active duty service members are not to speak to the media without prior authorization.

Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez, when told of the Alliance’s allegations, said she was unaware of any reports of career backlash toward chaplains in the wake of the repeal.

“Policies regarding service members’ individual expression and free exercise of religion already exist and there have been no changes,” she said. “In today’s military, people of different moral and religious values work, live and fight together; this is possible because they treat each other with dignity and respect.”

Alliance president Ron Crews, a retired Army chaplain, said in addition to giving dissenting chaplains a voice and public support, his organization worked to draw attention to the Obama administration’s use of the repeal to further erode the validity of Defense of Marriage Act.

Congressional action

Crews and the alliance support a bill introduced by Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) earlier this year that explicitly guarantees freedom of conscience for chaplains in performing rites and ceremonies and expressing beliefs, and prohibits the use of chapels on military installations for same-sex marriage and union ceremonies.

The bill now has 45 cosponsors, and Huelskamp said he believes it will pass the House this year with the aid of some key supporters on the Armed Services Committee.

Huelskamp brought the bill before HASC during a hearing last week, eliciting an encouraging response from chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) “We will of course look at this,” McKeon said at the hearing. “As we go through the process, keep in touch with us.”

Huelskamp told Human Events he believes the chaplains who have spoken out about life after the repeal represent only a small sampling of those who are facing pressure to conform, given military discipline and consequences for challenging authority. “Freedom is under attack,” he said. “For men and women to serve around the world, protecting our First Amendment rights, military members should not be able to be punished for speaking up for their religious beliefs.”



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