This week the U.S. Senate voted against taking up a major military bill that would have allowed the repeal of President Bill Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. That's the policy that keeps the military from doing anything to find out if members are homosexual while also keeping openly gay or lesbian people from serving in the military. My biggest beef with the media coverage has nothing to do with religion, per se. I just wish stories would spell out what happens if the policy is repealed. I mean, I assume we're not going back to the policy that was in place before Clinton instituted DADT, which was a stricter ban on homosexuality. But I'd like to know more about what the policy would be or what the actual plan is.
But there's also a huge religion angle that hasn't been well covered. Tmatt asked me to look for recent coverage of the legislative news that deals with the chaplaincy or other religion angles. I told him I would. And I basically came up with bupkis.
The Associated Press report, which ran heavily, didn't have any mention of religious freedom issues or chaplain concerns. It did include a nice photo of a San Francisco American Legion chaplain wearing a button calling for the repeal of DADT, but that was about it.
The New York Times report on the fail to take up the legislation didn't mention religious freedom issues or chaplain opposition. While the Washington Post's Wednesday story didn't mention anything, the Tuesday report did end with the slightest mention:
Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr. of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, who leads a coalition of African American religious leaders who oppose repealing "don't ask," warned that ending the ban would impose "the most radical form of social experiments" on troops.
"Introducing sexual tension and conduct into our barracks will be a distraction from the very business of the military, and that is protecting us from our enemies," Jackson said.
A repeal could also force military chaplains to resign or keep silent about their opposition, he said.
But some denominations are [concerned]. The Southern Baptist Convention, which has the most chaplains of any denomination at nearly 450, passed a resolution in June against the repeal of DADT, claiming that a large percentage of currently serving military personnel said they would not reenlist or would end their careers early should the policy be repealed.
The Presbyterian Church in America sent a letter to President Obama and military leaders in July, charging that chaplains might be reprimanded for preaching against homosexuality or refusing to marry homosexual couples.
Others are less concerned.
"I don't think much would happen to chaplains," said Doug Laycock, professor of law and religion at the University of Virginia and co-editor of Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts. "The chaplain corps is a total anomaly in our system. We've got a government running a religious organization."
I know enough chaplains to know that this is a big issue for them. The fact that the chaplain corps has had to navigate tricky areas before has given them some tools to figure out how to retain their theological integrity in a military culture that might be hostile to their views. Still, this would have some far-reaching consequences. This op-ed from last month describes some of the concerns.
While those who oppose DADT lost this battle, the fight will continue. Hopefully future coverage will flesh out these angles a bit better.