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Military Chaplains Acknowledge New Directive Doesn’t Impact Their Religious Freedom

October 13, 2011, 9:48 am | Posted by Nick Sementelli

military chaplain.jpgDuring the Congressional debate over repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, opponents of repeal alleged that a change in the policy would lead to an infringement of military chaplains’ religious freedom.

In his testimony to the Senate before the final vote last year, Defense Department Counsel Jeh C. Johnson reiterated that this would not be the case and repeal “would not require a chaplain to change what he preaches–what he counsels in the religious context.”

Last week, the Obama administration revisited this topic by issuing a new directive that allows military chaplains to perform same-sex marriages at military facilities in states where such unions are legal.

Keeping the administration’s promise, the ruling continues to protect the conscience rights of military chaplains. No chaplain is required to perform marriages if they choose not to, and the onus is on the service members to find a chaplain who will perform the ceremony. And as Mr. Johnson predicted, this distinction is well understood by the chaplains themselves:

The Pentagon can issue a policy change concerning the performance of same-gender ceremonies by chaplains. However, the Pentagon doesn’t generate religion as such,” says Gary Pollitt, a spokesman for the Military Chaplains Association, which represents 1,600 current and retired military chaplains.

In an e-mail statement he adds, “A military chaplain conducts religious ceremonies and rites in keeping with the canons [or beliefs, doctrine, policies] of the religious faith group that endorses that chaplain. Each faith group defines the parameters for religious rites and the clergyperson’s individual discretion [if any] with those rites.

Even conservative chaplains who are upset about the change had to admit there was no explicit violation of their religious liberty.

H/T Think Progress

Photo credit: expertinfantry, Flickr

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