What About the Religious Liberty of Liberal Military Chaplains?

After 21 religious denominations that provide chaplains to the military complained over a lack of “religious liberty protections” now that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is under repeal, one might think most chaplains in the military are anti-gay. It’s not so.

In response to the letter sent to the military’s chiefs of chaplains and the Alliance Defense Fund’s threat to sue if same-sex marriages are allowed in the military, Capt. John F. Gundlach, a retired Navy chaplain and member of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy, has spoken up for the religious liberty of chaplains who aren’t anti-gay.

“Are ADF and the religious groups they represent as willing to defend the same rights and protections for others they claim for themselves?” Gundlach wrote. “Are they as willing to acknowledge the right of chaplains from gay-friendly denominations to perform gay weddings in military chapels? And are they as willing to speak up for those who suffer discrimination because they are gay? If not, their pleas for special protection from discrimination for themselves are self-serving and unworthy of consideration.”

It’s a fair question, and one the ADF and anti-gay chaplains plainly don’t want asked. Instead, they want military chiefs and Congress to believe that chaplains are united in their desire to continue to preach against homosexuality as a sin. If they have to grant more liberal chaplains (and even gay or lesbian Christian soldiers) their right to religious liberty, then it defeats their entire purpose; which is to stall, or kill outright, the ultimate repeal of DADT.

ADF legal counsel Daniel Blomberg has said that “service members should not be denied the very constitutional liberties they volunteered to defend,” completely disregarding the fact that many gay and lesbian soldiers who profess a faith, Christian or otherwise, should also have their religious liberty protected—which means not having to bear being insulted or demonized by anyone in the military, chaplain or otherwise.

This is a point not lost on Gundlach, who writes:

“So where is the threat to religious freedom? And where could their right to free speech be limited? It will no longer be acceptable to speak about fellow gay and lesbian service members in demeaning ways in the workplace and other public settings. The fact that this has ever been acceptable by anyone anywhere, but especially by chaplains, is regrettable. And chaplains from the religious groups who are now demanding protection from discrimination have been some of the worst offenders. They, and others who agree with them, may continue to think and believe what they want, but outside of those areas where their religious speech is protected, they may now have to keep their bigotry to themselves.”