On CNN's Belief Blog yesterday, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council made a very strong pitch for the idea that homosexuality in the military is a religious issue.
He says that allowing gay soldiers to serve openly would infringe religious freedom.
Those most likely to suffer are military chaplains....Their ministry is to proclaim the moral and theological teachings of their faith....This may result in a chaplain corps that has plenty of Unitarian ministers and homosexual Episcopal priests, but a shortage of clergy to minister to the largest religious groups in America....
But if DADT is a religious issue, doesn't the US government have an obligation under the First Amendment to take a neutral stance towards it?
His argument against DADT repeal is as illogical and unsupported as it was when he aimed it against ENDA.
What Perkins doesn't seem to understand is that religious freedom cuts both ways.
The US government cannot make any law respecting an establishment of religion, or impeding the free exercise of religion.
Just as they can't require soldiers to keep kosher laws or go to a church, even the church of their choice, they shouldn't be able to require them to follow biblically-sanctioned sexual mores, like polygamy or marrying your brother-in-law if your husband dies. They can, for non-religious reasons, require them to keep in shape, not do drugs, or abstain from sex with other service personnel.
But when Tony Perkins insists that his religion requires him, and military chaplains of his persuasion, to preach against religious beliefs of Unitarians and Episcopalians, and that refraining from harassment of military personnel who don't follow his religion is a violation of his religious freedom, that betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the First Amendment.
I understand that the military needs to have religious chaplains. The military is a career for many, and given the fact that serving in the military means that one is effectively living in a military camp, the familiar trappings of normal life need to be reproduced for its citizens. They need to have stores and movies and gyms...and religious life.
That doesn't mean that military chaplains can foment sedition, or commit treason, or preach violence. I mean, a military chaplain is perfectly within his or her rights to believe in the rightness of slavery of African-Americans because they are the cursed sons of Ham (Genesis 9:20-27), or whatever. But that doesn't mean African-Americans should be required to serve in segregated military units because integration might infringe somebody's religious freedom based on their idea of Biblical principles.
Perkins also rails about made-up sensitivity training, which exists nowhere but in his own fevered imagination, that would "indoctrinate" troops, and require them to believe that people are born gay and cannot change and that homosexual conduct does no harm. But he offers no proof of that, other than the irrelevant fact that after he unleashed on the Commander in Chief for supporting DADT repeal and "the radical homosexual social agenda", he was disinvited to a prayer breakfast at local base.
The military officer who disinvited him noted that military protocol does not call for criticism of the Commander-in-Chief. "As military members we are sworn to support our Commander in Chief, and are forbidden to make or support statements which run counter to our roles as members of the armed forces."
Perkins decided that military allegiance to the Commander-in-Chief is a violation of religious freedom. "People don't understand that in the military there is a chain of command, and you have to follow orders. You're not free to disagree." Actually, I think people do understand that. It seems to be Perkins who doesn't understand that. He's free under the First Amendment to call the Commander-in-Chief a dirty so-and-so, but that doesn't mean he deserves to be invited to a pancake breakfast at the local VFW, let alone a prayer breakfast Andrews Air Force Base.
Perkins seems to have no idea what "sensitivity training" is. "Sensitivity training" is exactly that - giving people tools to be sensitive to people around them of different identities. Here's what the Encylopedia Britannica says about sensitivity training:
A psychological technique in which intensive group discussion and interaction are used to increase individual awareness of self and others...The group is usually small and unstructured and chooses its own goals. A trained leader is generally present to help maintain a psychologically safe atmosphere in which participants feel free to express themselves and experiment with new ways of dealing with others. The leader remains as much as possible outside the discussion. Issues are raised by the group members.
Sensitivity training isn't about bludgeoning people into agreement about diversity. It's about giving them a chance to practice interacting with others so they don't cause an international incident. It may have been okay in his hometown for a recruit from Texas to routinely call African-American men "boy", women "bitch" and gay people "faggots." He or she needs to know some other way to interact, and that's what sensitivity training is designed to provide.
Yes, there have been cases of poorly-designed sensitivity trainings run by unqualified people gone awry, but that doesn't justify an assumption that the military is going to demand fealty to any particular beliefs about homosexuality.
His argument that failure to make the law of the land follow his version of the Bible is a violation of religious freedom is logically deficient, legally untenable, deserving of ridicule, and should not have appeared on CNN.