Evangelicals: Repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell Threatens Religious Liberty

The religious freedoms of military chaplains and service members are at risk if the Obama administration repeals the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, conservative and evangelical leaders warned on Wednesday.

Already, some Christian chaplains have threatened to leave their posts if the Pentagon's policy on gay service members is overturned.

"If chaplains are forced to counsel same-sex couples or are limited in moral teachings that they can present you can look for orthodox Christian chaplains to exit the military, leaving an insurmountable void in fostering the environment that ensures that the men and women that wear the uniform are in their best mental, emotional and spiritual condition necessary to defend the nation and the ideals that we represent," said Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council.

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"With two military actions underway, multiple deployments, and one tour of duty, why would we ask these people to carry the burden of this administration's political agenda?" he posed at a media briefing in Washington, D.C.

President Obama has stated several times this year that he intends to repeal don't ask, don't tell. Most recently, Obama responded to several hecklers during a Los Angeles fundraiser this month expressing his support for the repeal.

"We are going to do that," he said to protesters who interrupted his address by shouting "repeal don't ask, don't tell!"

"When you've got an ally like Barbara Boxer and you've got an ally like me who are standing for the same thing, then you don't know exactly why you've got to holler, because we already hear you, all right?" he added.

The contentious policy was enacted by President Clinton in 1993 after Congress passed a law that same year banning homosexuals from serving in the military. Though it bars openly gay individuals from serving in the U.S. military, it also bars the military from asking service members their sexual orientation.

As bills are pending in both houses of Congress to repeal the policy and replace it with a law preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, hundreds of retired military officers and chaplains have all signed on to letters addressing their concerns and opposing any attempt to weaken the current law.

"We believe that normalizing homosexual conduct in the armed forces will pose a significant threat to chaplains' and Service members' religious liberty," says one letter, signed by more than 40 retired military chaplains, addressed to President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.

"The best way to protect religious liberty – and avoid lowering widely-respected religious belief to the level of racism – is simply retaining the current policy to prevent open homosexual behavior in the armed forces."

Some of the ways the chaplains' religious freedoms would be negatively impacted by a repeal include having to water down their teachings or being banned from expressing their religious beliefs on homosexual behavior, the letter lists.

Colonel Richard Young, retired chaplain with the U.S. army, commented Wednesday, "When the message of Bible-believing chaplains is muzzled, soldiers and families no longer have the benefit of the full counsel of God from the religious leaders that they depend upon for Biblical teaching, guidance and counsel."

A changed policy and a new law would also affect chaplains in their counseling, especially in regards to marriage.

Additionally, chaplains who hold to a position that is counter to the embracing of homosexuality could also have a lower chance at promotion.

"What happens if you're an evangelical chaplain and your boss is a practicing homosexual? What do you think your chances of promotion are?" said Arthur Schultz of the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers.

Schultz reminded the press and the public on Wednesday that chaplains are not government religious officials. Rather, they are representatives from their respective faith groups.

"So they have to be true to the communities and the churches which sent them," he emphasized.

"If you look at the demographics of the military today you will find that a large percentage comes from the churches ... of people who look upon the scriptural definition of sin as very definitive," he noted. "For my chaplains, the question of whether homosexuality is a sin is not open to debate."

The evangelical and conservative speakers said they were speaking out on the issue for those who cannot, which include current service members and chaplains on active duty.

Schultz was told by one chaplain who is currently serving that the word is out in the ranks that they are to remain mum on the issue.

Along with the letter endorsed by chaplains, Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, has a formal statement with 1,167 handwritten signatures of retired flag and general officers, some of whom are four-star leaders.

The retired officers endorse the current law and view any changes as "a threat to the volunteer force itself," said Donnelly, who has noted that repealing don't ask, don't tell won't improve military readiness.

"The law itself is secular," she commented. "But it respects and protects the rights of people of religious convictions to serve. We should not eliminate that.

"There is no good reason to pass an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) law for the military."

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