Republican Senators Introduce Bill To Curb Military Chaplains’ Religious Freedom

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) have introduced a Senate version of the Military Religious Freedom Act, a bill that ironically restricts the religious freedom of military chaplains. Wicker introduced a similar amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill last year that passed the Senate, but was ultimately removed during the bill’s conference. The House version, introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), passed earlier this summer.

The bill has two provisions. The first allows military chaplains to opt out of performing same-sex commitment ceremonies if they object for “reasons of conscience.” This is completely redundant, because the Pentagon made quite clear after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted that no chaplain would ever be required to perform a ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs. This measure serves as cover for the bill’s other provision, which extends the Defense of Marriage Act to prohibits same-sex marriage or “marriage-like ceremonies” from taking place at military facilities, even in states where such commitments would be legally recognized. Inhofe’s statement exemplifies this spin:

INHOFE: President Obama and his administration are dismissing their responsibility to uphold the law of the land by unilaterally deeming DOMA unworthy of enforcement. At the same time, since the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, they have begun to pressure military chaplains to fall in line with their liberal same-sex marriage agenda. This bill protects military chaplains from being forced to go against their conscience and religious beliefs in regard to this issue. This is something the chaplains that serve this country need and deserve.

There is no “pressure” on chaplains, but that fake issue serves as a scapegoat for the bill’s negative consequences. The effect of this overreach of DOMA would be to specifically target gay, lesbian, and bisexual servicemembers and prevent them from participating in perfectly legal activities that remain available to straight soldiers. It would also restrict chaplains from ministering to LGB troops in the same way they do all other servicemembers. It is a gross violation of these soldiers’ religious freedom and serves only to reinforce anti-gay stigma in the wake of DADT repeal.