The Washington Post

Activists call on Congress to protect military chaplains

Conservative legal activists and Christian leaders said Thursday that they will sue on behalf of military chaplains if the Senate does not pass a Republican version of the annual Pentagon policy bill that includes language barring Defense Department employees from participating in same-sex marriage ceremonies.

The annual defense authorization bill, which sets military policy for the following year, passed the House on Thursday with bipartisan support. Among hundreds of spending and policy provisions, the language backed by activists would bar service members and civilian Defense Department workers from participating in same-sex marriage ceremonies on military property.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.)
introduced the provision this month in response to guidance issued in April to Navy chaplains that said they would be permitted to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies at military chapels in states that recognize gay marriage once the ban on gays in the military officially ends. The Navy later withdrew the guidance pending further legal review by Pentagon lawyers.

The Navy’s proposed policy would make it difficult for military chaplains to fulfill their dual obligations as religious leaders and service members, according to the leaders of 21 Christian organizations who wrote this week to the top chaplains for the Air Force, Army and Navy. The groups select and endorse military chaplains to represent their denominations.

“We are genuinely concerned that this might be a sign of things to come,” the leaders wrote, requesting explicit conscience protections for chaplains.

But Pentagon policies regarding service members’ individual expression and the free exercise of religion already exist, Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said.

“There will be no changes,”
Lainez said in an e-mail. “In today’s military, people of different moral and religious values work, live and fight together; this is possible because they treat each other with dignity and respect.”

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said “chaplains and service members are secure and protected,” adding that any effort to further protect chaplains is “another desperate end run” by social conservatives. The SLDN supports ending the ban on gays in the military and represents troops discharged for violating the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on gays in uniform.

But Austin Nimocks, senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, said his conservative legal organization would sue all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary to ensure that federal law — instead of the Pentagon personnel policy — represents the group’s position.

“If the Senate does not follow the House and protect chaplains and service members, we have no doubt that legal action will be required,” Nimocks said Thursday at a news conference on Capitol Hill.

Bishop John Neal, a retired U.S. Army colonel who leads the International Communion of Evangelical Churches, warned that allowing military participation in gay weddings could compel socially conservative chaplains and troops to leave the military.

“I think what you’re going to find is a lot of senior officers, senior noncommissioned officers, that would have stayed longer will get out,” he said.

“I don’t think we know yet how many generals may just decide, ‘I’m going to call it a day,’ ” Neal added.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
Republicans debated Saturday night. The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Dan Balz says...
Rarely has the division between Trump and party elites been more apparent. Trump trashed one of the most revered families in Republican politics and made a bet that standing his ground is better than backing down. Drawing boos from the audience, Trump did not flinch. But whether he will be punished or rewarded by voters was the unanswerable question.
GOP candidates react to Justice Scalia's death
I don't know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish.
Sen. Marco Rubio, attacking Sen. Ted Cruz in Saturday night's very heated GOP debate in South Carolina. Soon after, Cruz went on a tirade in Spanish.
The Fix asks The State's political reporter where the most important region of the state is.
The State's Andy Shain says he could talk about Charleston, which represents a little bit of everything the state has to offer from evangelicals to libertarians, and where Ted Cruz is raising more money than anywhere else. In a twist, Marco Rubio is drawing strong financial support from more socially conservative Upstate. That said, Donald Trump is bursting all the conventional wisdom in the state. So maybe the better answer to this question is, "Wherever Trump is."
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, where he faces rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

March 6: Democratic debate

on CNN, in Flint, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.