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Don’t Ask (about our logic)

May 4, 2010, 5:36 pm | Posted by Dan Nejfelt

I’ve wondered for a while what role military chaplains would play in the debate about repealing “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell,” so last week when the Family Research Council and Alliance Defense Fund introduced a letter from 41 retired chaplains advocating preservation of the policy, I took notice. The letter, announced with great fanfare at the National Press Club, which made headlines with religious and secular press, was treated with skepticism in Stars and Stripes (an official military news publication):

Conservative groups predict tight restrictions on chaplains’ religious speech if the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” law is overturned, with some evangelical Christian groups contemplating pulling their ministers out of the ranks.

“The approved gospel will be a politically correct gospel,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a Christian lobbying group that deals with marriage and family issues. “If chaplains are limited in the moral teachings they can present [because of a repeal], you will see orthodox Christian chaplains leaving the military.”

Religious leaders in and outside the military doubted those predictions.

Air Force Chief of Chaplains Maj. Gen. Cecil Richardson said he thinks a repeal will be a “difficult transition,” but “I don’t know a single chaplain who wants to get out because of that issue.”

In addition to this refutation from the Air Force Chief of Chaplains, the letter pushed out by FRC and ADF was laced with dubious reasoning, as Mark Silk points out:

The letter sent to President Obama and Secretary of Defense Gates by a group retired chaplains begging for retention of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell is not exactly a testament to intellectual honesty. The chaplains–evangelicals and other conservative Protestants–are exercised that if the military “normalizes homosexual behavior” it will impinge upon their own religious liberty. But as they are well aware, clergy don’t enjoy the same degree of religious liberty when they’re employed by the military as they do as civilians. There are rules limiting proselytizing, for example, and although these have always stuck in the craw of evangelical chaplains anxious to exercise the Great Commission, they have had to abide by them. If they can’t, then they can always pursue their calling outside the confines of military service.

Deep into the letter, the signatories do admit that military chaplains only have their jobs by virtue of the need to enable other service personnel to exercise their own right of religious free exercise. The letter goes on to claim that limiting chaplains’ religious freedom will limit the free exercise rights of “the men and women in uniform who share their faith and rely on their instruction.” Why? Because it says so.

The truth is that by not forbidding it American society “normalizes” what a lot of religious folks consider sinful behavior: divorce, extramarital sex, alcohol consumption, dancing, gambling, abortion. It’s simply necessary for Americans to recognize that the norms of civil society are not necessarily the same as the norms of their particular faith. And that goes for the military portion of civil society as well.

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