December 7, 2010

Military Chaplins: Don't Ask. Don't Tell

By Francis Nye

Sixty-five retired military chaplains wrote to the President earlier this year urging him to maintain the military’s ban on service by openly gay men and women. These chaplains alleged that allowing gay men and women to serve openly would compel them to violate their religious principles, such as forcing them to perform same-sex marriages. They claim that if they would not officiate at such marriages, the military would discipline, demote, and perhaps even dismiss them from military service. Repealing the ban, commonly known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” will force them to either “obey God or to obey man.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. A chaplain exists to serve the military in two capacities. First, chaplains serve as clergy to members of their own faith. A priest will minister to Catholics, a rabbi to Jews, and an imam to Muslims. Second, chaplains must serve the military as a whole by supporting the diverse population of men and women in the armed forces, by providing for the U.S. Constitution’s “free exercise rights” of every military member.

The military has maintained a chaplains’ freedom to serve their congregations according to the principles of their faith for nearly two and a half centuries. There is no reason why this would change if gays and lesbians served openly in the military. Military chaplains are not required to perform services that violate their religious beliefs—a rabbi, for example, is not required to administer a Catholic’s last rite. So the claim that repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will compel chaplains to violate their religious faith is blatantly false.

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