Color me unsurprised! In the two weeks that have transpired since the Supreme Court’s civil rights “thunderbolt” upholding the right of same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states, the fundamentalist Christian religious right has been in the midst of a very public state of apoplectic hysteria. Within the United States military, a far less public war has been raging – a war that is being one-sidedly waged by extremist religious bigots versus LGB service members whose only desire is to serve their country faithfully while enjoying the rights and protections afforded them by the United States Constitution.
However, these LGB servicemembers have borne the brunt of concerted attacks by the shock troops of anti-Constitutionalism and anti-gay bigotry – many of whom are activist, Evangelical, fundamentalist military chaplains who are scandalously playing the “victim” card, claiming to be guarding against some fictitious “War on Christianity” in which I, the author, have been dubbed a “Field General.”
And now, thanks to my call to sack the faux ‘victimized’ chaplain-cretins within the chaplaincy who uphold bigoted patterns of behavior versus LGB service members, I’ve even earned the opprobrious title of “Mikey Weinstein, longtime pro-homosexual activist.” Oh well, that’s an homage and badge I’ll gladly wear with pride! After all, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) represents 903 LGBT military clients out of a total of 42,054 current Sailor, Soldier, Marine, Airman, Cadet/Midshipman, National Guard, Reserve, and veteran clients, and I am eager to assure anyone that they are JUST as good at their military tasks as their non-LGB counterparts.
However, as important as this fact is, it’s really beside the point. For Constitutional defenders within the military, this whole “debate” – stripped of all hype, hysteria, and prejudice – is an extremely simple question of where the line must be drawn between church and state.
First and foremost, when the publicly stated religious beliefs of a military chaplain cross the linebetween, on the one hand, stating a theological position and, on the other hand, giving his/her military congregation what could reasonably be perceived as 'anti-LGB marching orders', there is an extremely dire Constitutional violation of the highest order of concern.
There is a HUGE difference between beliefs and the actions that are a result of those beliefs. The former is known as “prejudice”, while the latter is what we know as “bigotry.” For example, let’s say that a military member harbors an intense internal hatred of his or her non-white servicemembers, or of women. It would be one thing to simply HOLD those personal views – thankfully, the Constitution protects Americans from punishment for “thought crimes” – but it is quite another question entirely for that same military member to ACT in their official capacity ON those beliefs. Again, prejudice versus bigotry. In this case, armed forces members can and MUST be held accountable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Another example can be found in recent history, in Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, 2009. It was there that Lt. Col. Gary Hensley, then-chief of U.S. Military chaplains in Afghanistan, sickeninglycalled upon service members to proselytize and convert their fellow U.S. service members to his flavor of Christianity, claiming that, like American Special Forces, “We do the same thing as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down. Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom.” As an evangelical Christian, of course Hensley is entitled to have those theological beliefs. However, as a an employee of the U.S. government’s Department of Defense (DoD), Hensley’s deeds catapulted him far beyond the realm of professionalism and were absolutely and illicitly unbecoming of an ostensible military “professional” sworn to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Instead, he revealed himself to be a nefarious Constitutional outlaw no less hostile to U.S. values than the Taliban itself.
The seminal question here revolves around the specific compelling governmental interest that guides the legislative, judicial and executive/regulatory actions of the U.S. government and the DoD. Does the DoD have a compelling interest in coddling the backwards bigotry of fundamentalist Christian dinosaurs who dwell within the dark crevices of the armed forces? Is it THEIR free speech and worship rights that are of paramount governmental concern to the U.S. Armed Forces? Obviously not. Quite on the contrary, the ONE and ONLY compelling governmental interest of the DoD in regards to the U.S. Armed Forces is to ensure the optimization – indeed, the maximization – of military readiness and mission accomplishment, unit cohesion, good order, morale, discipline, health, and safety. In a crystal clear U.S. Supreme Court ruling made over four decades ago, even the ultra-conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist fully agreed opining for the majority:
“This Court has long recognized that the military is, by necessity, a specialized society separate from civilian society… While the members of the military are not excluded from the protection granted by the First Amendment, the different character of the military community and of the military mission requires a different application of those protections. … The fundamental necessity for obedience, and the consequent necessity for imposition of discipline, may render permissible within the military that which would be constitutionally impermissible outside it… Speech [to include religious speech] that is protected in the civil population may nonetheless undermine the effectiveness of response to command. If it does, it is constitutionally unprotected.” (Emphasis added)
Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733, 1974
In other words, what might otherwise be a violation of basic Constitutional rights for civilians may indeed NOT be a violation of the rights of those serving in the U.S. Military due, once again, to the all-critical, compelling governmental interest described above.
What is the compelling governmental interest in retaining the services of a chaplain? After all, chaplains are ostensibly meant to provide comfort, counseling, and to nurture good morale in the temporal hell of modern warfare. HOW exactly does the public preaching of homophobia and the morale-wracking agitation of anti-gay sentiment serve that purpose?
The only Constitutional stance on this issue that makes sense from a legal standpoint is MRFF’soutspoken and forthright demand that if bigoted chaplains are too cowardly to stand by their “convictions” and fold up their uniforms, turn in their papers, and get the hell out of the military chaplaincy, then the DoD must do its job and “expeditiously cleanse itself of the intolerant filth that insists on lingering in the ranks of our armed forces.”
That said, now please listen up; nobody is trying to interfere with the Constitutional rights of military chaplains to hold PERSONAL views that are racist, sexist, and homophobic, etc. Chaplains preach their views according to their denominational endorsing agencies dictates and precepts, that much is understood. However, if chaplains believe that they MUST publicly and visibly preach to their troops a message that their LGB comrades are sexual-deviant “sinners” because of their “choice” to be gay, then these views are fatally noxious and totally destructive to unit cohesion, good order, morale, and discipline in the armed forces. Why should we tolerate chaplains or ANY other military members who, on the taxpayer’s dime, denigrate and disrespect our fine LGB service members? Some of these LGB service members are Generals and Admirals commanding, in defense of America’s national security, vast numbers of personnel and resources (including weapons of mass destruction). It literally massacres unit cohesion, good order, morale, discipline et al. to allow chaplains or any other military personnel to describe LGB leaders at ANY level as hellfire-destined, shameful sinners whose perverted sexual orientation is a matter of having “flagrantly and willfully rebelled as a choice against God”?
The answer is that we have NO reason to tolerate such hateful bigotry masquerading as a Constitutionally protected religious freedom, and we have EVERY reason to decisively root it out in the interests of maintaining the U.S. Military’s Prime Directive – the compelling governmental interest (there’s that phrase again!) of maximizing military readiness, mission accomplishment, unit cohesion, good order, morale, discipline, health, and safety.
Oh, but my friends we’ve seen this very same crap before. Almost seventy years ago (1948), President Truman ordered the U.S. Armed Forces to become racially integrated. There was this VERY same predictable outrage of currently serving military members, many of them claiming to be devout Christians, including Christian chaplains, that such an Executive Order from the President was sacrilegious and blasphemous to their religious convictions and biblical worldview. Too bad. Truman made it clear that those claiming “religious” violations would either have to alter their vicious prejudices, hold their vile tongues, demonstrably change their attitudes or be voluntary/involuntary separated from the armed forces because a new day of equality, freedom and justice had just arrived at the DoD.
Now, thanks to the United States Supreme Court, yet ANOTHER new day of righteousness dawns for the DoD. It beckons us to remember the DoD’s Prime Directive to ensure its military mission for all Americans; Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Sikh, Hindu, Wiccan et al., black or white, male or female, straight or LGB.
Seriously, is this REALLY so hard to understand? It is ONLY by fulfilling this precisely defined and delineated compelling governmental interest that our armed forces can concomitantly maximize its efficiency in upholding American national security and protecting the full panoply of Constitutional rights enjoyed by the rest of us as civilians.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at helpbuildthewall.org.
Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the 7-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the "Iran-Contra" Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of "With God On Our Side" (2006, St. Martin's Press) and "No Snowflake in an Avalanche" (2012, Vireo).