DADT and the Chaplains

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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 As the report properly declares, if DADT is repealed, the DOD must “direct the Services to reiterate the principle that chaplains, in the context of their religious ministry, are not required to take actions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.