Next front in religious liberty fight: Military chaplains and “ceremonies”?

The military chaplaincy, from the Catholic perspective, is one of the strangest amalgamations of duties, responsibilities, authorities, and chains of command. You have your bishop and your commanding officer. You have your “parishoners,” frequently consisting of many people not of the same faith, but for whom you have a more comprehensive pastoral responsibility—performing or arranging for religious ceremonies as possible, counseling, and helping in any way possible that respects their conscience as well as your own—than a conventional parish priest. You have a rank and operate within the military hierarchy, but are not necessarily tied to any unit; you have a freedom of movement that few others enjoy; and you really don’t command any troops except your assistant and any chaplains who are under you if you move up the chaplaincy ranks, but you can be one of the most influential people around through sound counsel. And you still owe obedience to your bishop or religious community superior, and of course to your faith.

Archbishop Timothy Broglio with a group of military chaplain candidates

Most Reverend Timothy Broglio, archbishop of the Military Services, USA, with a group of military chaplain candidates in statuary hall in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception after his installation in 2008. Yours truly on the far right.

I was a Navy chaplain candidate for three years while I was in seminary and had a fair number of opportunities to meet and work with chaplains and their flock on military installations while I held my commission. Truly a special service and an incredible way to serve God by serving those who serve us all—helping them to retain their Center, sometimes in the midst of the worst conditions and situations humanity can contrive.

Thanks to former Congressman Todd Akin, the National Defense Authorization Act passed on December 21 and signed on January 2 by President Obama protects military chaplains from having to perform any ceremonies or rites that violate their conscience.

Like same-sex “marriages.”

Akin introduced language that reads:

The Armed Forces shall accommodate the beliefs of a member of the armed forces reflecting the conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the member and, in so far as practicable, may not use such beliefs as the basis of any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment.

But in a “signing statement,” a practice presidents use to thwart the true intent of the law—and a practice then-Senator Obama decried when President Bush used it—President Obama referred to this language as “unnecessary and ill-advised.”

Obama wrote:

The military already appropriately protects the freedom of conscience of chaplains and service members…The secretary of defense will ensure that the implementing regulations do not permit or condone discriminatory actions that compromise good order and discipline or otherwise violate military codes of conduct.

That part, “do not permit or condone discriminatory actions” in the directive to the secretary of defense is the sticky part. We already know that President Obama considers an imagined “right” to contraceptives and abortifacients greater than an individual’s right of conscience. He also ended the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and has endorsed same-sex “marriage.” In a statement to supporters he assured all, “My administration remains fully committed to continuing the successful implementation of the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell, and to protecting the rights of gay and lesbian service members,” and that this provision “will not alter that.” His notion of what is offensively “discriminatory” clearly differs from that of a faithful Catholic chaplain, and certainly from the intent of those who wrote this law.

At present military chaplains are permitted to perform same sex “marriages” on military bases. This likely means that Catholic chaplains, while not required to perform the ceremony, is required to help make accommodation for a same-sex couple to have their ceremony.

I do not know what sort of “implementing regulations” the secretary of defense can promulgate that will at one and the same time follow the plain letter of this law and not “permit or condone discriminatory actions” according to the President’s understanding of “discriminatory.” I can see litigation coming of this as soon as a confused Catholic service member demands that the Catholic chaplain perform the same-sex ceremony, perhaps because there is no other chaplain around who would willingly accommodate.

Fortunately, there already is some case law in favor of the good guys. In 1996 a Catholic Air Force Reserve chaplain, Father Vincent Rigdon, sued the Clinton administration. They had forbidden him and all Catholic chaplains from following the directives of the U.S. bishops to ask all Catholics to write Congress in support of the partial-birth abortion ban they had passed, asking them to override President Clinton’s veto. Father Rigdon, joined in the lawsuit by a Jewish chaplain, the Muslim American Military Association, and a Catholic Navy chaplain, won.

Judge Stanley Sporkin of the D.C. Circuit Court noted that chaplains have “rank without a command.” They can order a private to pray a rosary, but the private’s noncompliance does not result in disciplinary action.

Sporkin wrote, “What we have here is the government’s attempt to override the Constitution and the laws of the land by a directive that clearly interferes with military chaplains’ free-exercise and free-speech rights, as well as those of their congregants.”

Hopefully, should the Obama administration’s directives lean more toward preventing “discriminatory actions” than respecting freedom of conscience, the courts will see clearly once again.

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55 thoughts on “Next front in religious liberty fight: Military chaplains and “ceremonies”?

  1. Antonio Sosa says:

    We can only expect the worst from dictator Obama, bent on helping our enemies, and on destroying our economy, our FREEDOMS and our country. Americans in general and Catholics in particular have no greater enemy than Obama.

    1. Greg B. says:

      Which of enemies is he trying to help? Please elaborate.

      1. Russell Lewis says:

        A response to you would probably be like talking to a wall. Once you called the legitimately elected president of the United States a “dictator,” you closed your mind to any sort of logical discussion.

        1. Greg B. says:

          I assume that was meant for Antonio.

    2. Russell Lewis says:

      Only paranoid, delusional people look out their window and see “enemies” all around and around ever corner.
      I’m guessing you voted for “the other guy,” the one who lost.

  2. Guest says:

    We can only expect the worst from dictator Obama, bent on helping our enemies, and our destroying our economy, our FREEDOMS and our country. Americans in general and Catholics in particular have no greater enemy than Obama.

  3. Russell Lewis says:

    If you are stupid enough to join the military without knowing the rules and regulations and what you can do and can’t and what the military can do to control your life, you deserve what you get. I spent a week in the library before the internet, learning all the things Uncle Sam could do to and / or for me. I was informed.
    If the chaplains do make a move and can’t live within the boundaries of the UCMJ, then they have the same options I did… when their time comes, get out!

    1. Tom Crowe says:

      Clearly you weren’t a chaplain and didn’t study up on the portions of the UCMJ and national defense laws that pertain to the chaplaincy and freedom of religion. Fortunately for you, since we now have the internet you don’t need to spend a week in the library boning up on those rights and liberties, you can do a few simple internet searches. Bottom line: chaplains do not surrender their conscience rights or freedom of religion or freedom of speech when they become chaplains.

      1. Russell Lewis says:

        No, I wasn’t a chaplain, but yes, I did read the UCMJ… clearly!
        I am not advocating the chaplains surrender their conscience rights or freedoms of any kind. I contend if they don’t like the environment or if the environment changes, they leave to go back to an environment where they are comfortable and the rule of law doesn’t conflict with their beliefs.
        Clearly you missed my reason for mentioning the library (even though I’m sure you’ll say you didn’t, to save face). In a sense, however, you are right, the internet should make it easier to make a decision whether you are going to join an organization which now stands in direct conflict with one’s beliefs. If one does, then that person is, as I stated, stupid.
        So, bottom line… should I ask if you were a chaplain, or a legal officer or a MAA and an expert on the UCMJ?

        1. Tom Crowe says:

          But it doesn’t stand in direct conflict with one’s beliefs. Did you even read my article?

          The law as passed by Congress and signed by the president, as well as the case law that I wrote about in the original article, support the right of chaplains not to be forced to perform ceremonies that contradict their conscience and religious beliefs. My article is about the possibility that President Obama may try to contravene this law through executive actions and a hope that the courts will once again uphold conscience rights.

          Your comments belie a basic ignorance not only of the law as relating to chaplains, but even of the article I wrote that you purport to be commenting upon.

          1. Russell Lewis says:

            Yes, i read the article. Did you read my comments.
            I’m thinking your stand is to state what you believe and then either ignore or belittle anyone elses’ opinion. I’m done. I would have to consider myself stupid to keep going back and forth with you on this issue.

          2. Tom Crowe says:

            Who’s belittling whom here? You seem to keep wanting to label people “stupid” because of x or y litmus test, including yourself, without actually engaging in a discussion. I addressed your comment by pointing out that your information is incorrect. You never pointed out how your information *is* correct and mine is not. But if you’re “done,” that’s fine.

  4. Gerard Neumann says:

    It is not hatred to encourage behavior that ensures the survival of the species.

    1. Russell Lewis says:

      Wow, what power gays must have… if they get married, heterosexuals are going to stop feeling love, and the desire to have children and the entire human race will come to an end.
      Take a look in the orphanages Catholics are screaming that gay marriage forced them to close and you’ll see that heterosexuals are doing a pretty good job of bringing kids into the world.

      1. Lee Knutsen says:

        Diversity of thought, religious practice is being shut down. Many of our nations’ governmental, educational, other leaders are busy tearing down our nation from the inside. There is an old historical saying which I PRAY does not come true “Most great nations (civilizations) fall from within.” Tour your nearby inner city to see a preview of the fall…with maybe some religious orgs helping to stem the tide (unless taken OUT by the anti religious zealots)

    2. Greg B. says:

      Promoting hate against gay people does not encourage behavior that ensures the survival of the species. Ridiculous statements like that just proof that it is indeed hate that motivates you.

    3. Lee Knutsen says:

      Some are now taught to despise the human species…which means…the stronger humans will dominate, use, sometimes enslave or exterminate the weaker humans. What happens in the HUGE human trafficking slavery movement may well come (in different form) to shape a LOWERED view of Human Worth!

  5. Philip D. says:

    There you go. I see CatholicVote is back to their old tricks of stirring up anti-gay hate and animosity. Nice to see you back on your game in 2013!

    1. abadilla says:

      If you think CV is spreading hate, why are you back for more? I certainly would never want to be part of any website that spreads hate.
      How “convenient” to accuse others of “hatred.” That way you delegitimize their arguments in a nano second. Good try but it won’t work here because Tom is not the quiet type.

      1. Greg B. says:

        This is the Internet, not a private conversation in your church basement. The bigotry that CV promotes and the misinformation they use to justify it are publicly available to be read by anyone with an Internet connection. As such, it must be called out for what it is, have its assetions challenged, and its lies corrected. If you want to share your thoughts in an echo chamber and not be challenged, I suggest a private message board or a Facebook account with strong privacy settings.

        1. abadilla says:

          “The bigotry that CV promotes and the misinformation they use to justify it are publicly available to be read by anyone with an Internet connection.”
          After this statement, do you really think I think you want to have a dialogue?

    2. Mary Darby says:

      Acknowledging that a behavior is a “sin” and refusing to be a party to it is not HATE. You need to get a clear definition of the words “hate” and “animosity” before you so freely label people as such!

      1. Greg B. says:

        Nobody is asking you to be a party to it. If you share you views with those who know you, I doubt you’ll even get an invitation to a same-sex wedding. You don’t just want to not be forced to be involved with something you disapprove of, you don’t want something you disapprove of to exist. Big, big difference.

        1. abadilla says:

          “Nobody is asking you to be a party to it.” You do realize that Mary is probably a Catholic and when you accuse all of us of “hatred” and “animosity,” she is naturally offended.

      2. abadilla says:

        Mary,
        Having a “dialogue” with Greg is like Fidel Castro having a dialogue with a true capitalist. I’m beginning to think it won’t go anywhere and it is a shame because these forums are an opportunity to dialogue and agree to disagree, but when insults fly all over the place, animosity takes over and dialogue becomes nearly impossible. I am reminded of Kennedy trying to have a dialogue with Kruschev. It became impossible once Kruschev took his shoe off at the UN and hitting the table with it denounced the Imperialists Yankees.

    3. Nice to see your intolerance of religious belief. How about you take your anti-Catholic rhetoric elsewhere.

  6. Greg B. says:

    Another example of a solution looking for a problem. The anti-gay lobby (that’d be you) is forever in search of an example of an infringement on “religious liberty”
    in attempt to justify their bigotry. It’s the absurd “gay couples should be denied marriage rights because I might have to bake them a cake” argument. A perfect example of this occurred last year. In 2011 the Navy issued sensitivity guidelines which stated that chaplains MAY CHOOSE to perform same-sex weddings. NOM then lied about it on their blog (in an attempt to stoke fears/raise money) by saying that the Navy REQUIRED chaplains to perform same-sex weddings. Undeniable proof of that lie is here: http://www.hrc.org/nomexposed/entry/nom-lies-about-navy-letter#.UOZYE1y9LCRthus us a continuation of that lie. Nobody is trying to
    force chaplains to perform any marriages, including ones outside their own faith or sane-sex ones, against their will. Nobody. Anyone with half a brain knows this. But anti-gay will continue to lie about be ages they are desperate to create the fiction that marriage- equality is going to lead to all sorts of bad things and negatively affect all sorts of people. This narrative is also part religious right’s relentless attempt to expand the definition of religious liberty. As commented earlier today on another blog regarding these “protections”:
    This is the anti-gay Christianist M.O.:
    Step 1: Propose a legal solution to a problem that DOES NOT exist (e.g. forcing clergy to perform same-sex weddings or requiring a church to solemnize them).
    Step 2: Try to use that solution as legal cover and justification for a problem that DOES exist (e.g. discriminating against LGBT people in public accommodations or subjecting them to harassment and bullying).

    1. Joe M says:

      Greg. If it is a false crisis why didn’t Democrats just agree to pass the bill protecting chaplains rights to opt out of ceremonies that conflict with their religious beliefs?

      Your position reminds me of the business client that objects to contracts with late payment penalties while insisting that they will never pay late.

      1. Greg B. says:

        I noticed you didn’t adreess NOM’s blatant lie. But the answers to your questions are in my original post. It’s because the bill doesn’t simply allow to chaplains to opt out of ceremonies – they already have that freedom – that’s the claimed purpose off that provision but its language takes it much further and could effectively give immunity from punishment to service members and chaplains who discriminate against, bulky, harass or intimidate gay service members – as long as they can claim a “moral” basis for it. Consider this – Catholic chaplains cannot be forced to marry a Muslim serviceman to a Hindu. So why don’t we need these sorts of with respect to issues surrounding heterosexual marriages involving various religions? It’s a red herring. In addition to attempting to provide legal cover for anti-gay harassment, provisions such as this are an attempt to continue the false narrative that marriage equality is a threat to the freedoms of others. No chaplains were ever in danger of being forced to marry gay couples but if you make a spectacle out of solving a problem that doesn’t exist, some people believe that the problem exists. This is the same tactic Republicans used to push voter ID laws last year. There were virtually no documented incidents of voter fraud yet they insisted that these laws were crucial. Why? To solve a non-existent problem? of course not. The purpose was to provide a legal mechanism to disenfranchise minority and likely Democratic voters. These “conscience clauses” are no different.

        1. Joe M says:

          If anything is a red herring it’s you bringing up NOM. I’m interested in discussing the actual subject. If you have a beef with a NOM position, take it up with them. I feel no obligation to figure out what their position is just so that I can address your reaction to it. It’s ridiculous to expect that is something I must do. Do you speak for every gay marriage advocate on earth?

          Please cite the specific language you refer to that “takes it much further”.

          1. Scott H. says:

            Considering the fact that the operator of this website is on NOM’s payroll and repeats the exact same things here and on their blog, I think NOM’s actions are fair game.

          2. Joe M says:

            Considering the fact that I have nothing to do with NOM, I think that demanding that I speak for them as Greg B did is ridiculous.

            I’m here to read opinions and discuss Catholic-relevant subjects. If you or Greg has a problem with NOM, talk to them about it. Not me.

          3. Scott H. says:

            Ok then. What is your point of view exactly? It isn’t entirely clear.

          4. Joe M says:

            My point of view is that if this is a fabricated issue, as Greg B asserts, then there should be zero harm in passing a law protecting a chaplain’s right to opt-out of performing ceremonies that conflict with their religion.

            That lawmakers blocked such a law appears to discredit Greg Bs argument.

          5. Greg B. says:

            Again….you’re being disingenuous. If the intent of the provision was only to allow chaplains to “opt out” then, aside from the fact that it would be redundant since chaplains already have the freedom to moot out of weddings for Jews, Atheists, gays, divorcees, Muslims, etc., but the language of the provision would match the purpose you claim it has. It would simply say something to the effect of “Chaplains retain the may decline to perform any wedding ceremony for any reason.” But we all know that it goes far beyond that. That’s not my opinion, it’s fact. Simply read it. A good analysis of the language is here: http://www.washingtonblade.com/2012/12/14/alert-defense-budget-may-include-anti-gay-provision/

          6. Joe M says:

            You suggested to us that you have knowledge of the language that “takes it much further” than protecting a chaplains right to opt-out. The article you link doesn’t substantiate your claim about the language any more than you have.

            The burden is on you to back up your own arguments. Please provide the language you say “takes it much further.”

          7. Greg B. says:

            Under the language, the U.S. military would have to “accommodate the conscience and sincerely held moral principles and religious beliefs of the members of the Armed Forces concerning the appropriate and inappropriate expression of human sexuality” and may not use these beliefs as the basis of any adverse personnel action or discrimination. Additionally, it would prohibit the U.S. military from taking action against military chaplains who decline to serve a particular service member based on religious beliefs.

            This language has been understood to mean service members could actively harass their fellow comrades for their perceived or actual sexual orientation without fear of reprisal. Additionally, it has been understood to mean that chaplains would have free rein to discriminate against service members on any basis — including religion, gender, sexual orientation, race or any other characteristic — simply by saying serving them is contrary to their beliefs. – ‘ALERT: Defense budget may include anti-gay provision;’ The Washington Blade; December 14, 2012

          8. Greg B. says:

            And no Joe, the fact that lawmakers opposed the provision and President Obama felt obligated to include a signing statement on it doesn’t discredit my argument, it supports it. They oppose it for the very reasons I’ve laid out.

          9. Joe M says:

            You haven’t substantiated that the reasons you laid out are true.

          10. Tom Crowe says:

            Scott H — Wrong. I do not work for NOM, and CV is not under the NOM umbrella. You may be thinking of Thomas Peters, an employee of NOM and the writer of “American Papists” posts which are now housed here, but he is just one of the writers, not “the operator of this website.”

          11. Greg B. says:

            Under the language, the U.S. military would have to “accommodate the conscience and sincerely held moral principles and religious beliefs of the members of the Armed Forces concerning the appropriate and inappropriate expression of human sexuality” and may not use these beliefs as the basis of any adverse personnel action or discrimination. Additionally, it would prohibit the U.S. military from taking action against military chaplains who decline to serve a particular service member based on religious beliefs.

            This language has been understood to mean service members could actively harass their fellow comrades for their perceived or actual sexual orientation without fear of reprisal. Additionally, it has been understood to mean that chaplains would have free rein to discriminate against service members on any basis — including religion, gender, sexual orientation, race or any other characteristic — simply by saying serving them is contrary to their beliefs. – ‘ALERT: Defense budget may include anti-gay provision;’ The Washington Blade; December 14, 2012

          12. Joe M says:

            How is “accommodate the conscience and sincerely held moral principles and
            religious beliefs of the members of the Armed Forces concerning the
            appropriate and inappropriate expression of human sexuality” not completely consistent with protecting the right of chaplains to opt out of performing ceremonies that conflict with their religious beliefs?

            How is “it would prohibit the U.S. military from taking action against military
            chaplains who decline to serve a particular service member based on
            religious beliefs” not completely consistent with protecting the right of chaplains to opt out of performing ceremonies that conflict with their religious beliefs?

            The subsequent statement “This language has been understood to mean service members could actively
            harass their fellow comrades for their perceived or actual sexual
            orientation without fear of reprisal” is a logical fallacy. “understood to mean” by what authority? An anecdotal perspective does not give an analysis merit.

            This statement really discredits the reasoning of the author of the article: “Additionally, it has been understood to mean that chaplains would have
            free rein to discriminate against service members on any basis —
            including religion, gender, sexual orientation, race or any other
            characteristic — simply by saying serving them is contrary to their
            beliefs.” The language that the author quotes specifically refers to “appropriate and inappropriate expression of human sexuality”. So, that would rule out “race or any other characteristic” as they later claim.

            The irony here is that the argument against this language appears to be exactly what you are accusing others of: claiming that a law does something it doesn’t in order to draw attention away from the real issue.

          13. Greg B. says:

            A lot of words to write when all they had to say was “no chaplain shall be required to perform any wedding”, wouldn’t you say? Admit that you mistepresented both the language and the intent of this provision. It is intended to protect as much anti-gay behavior as possible and you know it. A soldier that harasses a fellow soldier over his sexuality could be shielded from discipline if he just claims that he has a religious / “moral” opposition to homosexuality. Do we need to allow Muslim soldiers to harass Christians in order to ensure that chaplains won’t be forced to officiate heterosexual weddings outside of their faith? If no, why not?

          14. Joe M says:

            There is no logical comparison between having a belief and an act of harassment. A soldier that harasses a fellow soldier over his sexuality would not be shielded from discipline by this language because they would have committed an act of harassment. The reason for the harassment is irrelevant to whether or not harassment occurred or whether discipline could be taken.

            I did not misrepresent the language or its intent. You made a claim about it and have so far not backed up your claim.

    2. Tom Crowe says:

      Greg B. You fail at reading comprehension and fail to respond to what I actually wrote. I’ll let you re-read my article, re-read your comment, and hopefully you’ll see how what you wrote does not reflect what I wrote. Then, if you are so inclined, please comment on what I *actually* wrote rather than what you *want me to have* written. Cheers.

      1. Greg B. says:

        And you fail at veiling your bigotry or producing a valid justification for it. I read the entire article and responded to your claims. I stand by my post.

        1. Tom Crowe says:

          Then I can safely ignore you because I do not recognize my argument in your comment. Thanks for clearing that up. Cheers.

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