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‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy necessary, leaders say

NASHVILLE (BP)–The military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prevents homosexuals from serving openly in the armed forces, may be a thing of the past if a bill working its way through Congress passes in the current legislative session. Several conservative advocates, however, argue that repealing the military’s policy on homosexuals would do irreversible harm to the military and the country.

Rep. Marty Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat and member of the House Armed Services Committee, introduced H.R. 1059, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, during the 109th congressional session in 2005. That bill has now been re-introduced and is working its way through committee.

Co-sponsored by more than 100 mostly Democratic representatives from traditionally liberal states, the bill, Meehan claims, would “enhance the readiness of the Armed Forces by replacing the current policy concerning homosexuality in the Armed Forces, referred to as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ with a policy of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

But Craig Mitchell, a former career military officer who now serves as a professor of Christian ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said such an act “does nothing to enhance the readiness of our armed forces.”

“In fact it does the opposite,” Mitchell told Baptist Press in an interview. “The act would allow liberals to the use the military for their social experimentation. That’s part of the problem. I don’t think social liberals understand why the military exists. And this also shows their reckless disregard for the security of our country. The military isn’t a vehicle for social change.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and a former U.S. Marine, told Baptist Press he also supports the current policy, and believes those who advocate the right of homosexuals to serve openly do not understand military operations.

“Sometimes you’ll have 100, 500, or 1,000 soldiers, sailors or Marines together in a barracks or in a ship bay, all using the same showers and bathroom facilities. When you introduce sexuality into that kind of environment, it begins to break down discipline and unit cohesion,” he said.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” a policy formulated by President Bill Clinton in 1994, once again became the subject of national debate when Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Chicago Tribune recently that the policy against homosexual behavior in the military should remain in place to prevent “immoral” behavior.

“I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts,” Pace told the Tribune March 12. “I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way.”

Attributing his comments on homosexuality to his upbringing, Pace also said he regarded adultery as immoral behavior, telling the Tribune that the military doesn’t look the other way when its soldiers violate regulations. “We prosecute that kind of immoral behavior.”

Slightly more than 600 service members were discharged from their positions in 2006 because they violated the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, according to the Pentagon. That number is the lowest it has been since the policy was established in 1994, and down from the highest discharge rate of 1,227 in 2001. More than 2.5 million soldiers, sailors and airmen serve in the nation’s active duty and reserve armed forces.

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy states that “sexual orientation will not be a bar to service unless manifested by homosexual conduct. The military will discharge members who engage in homosexual conduct, which is defined as a homosexual act, a statement that the member is homosexual or bisexual, or a marriage or attempted marriage to someone of the same gender.”

Both Republican and Democratic congressmen and several homosexual activist groups, including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund (SLDN), claimed that the general had inserted his personal opinions into a policy debate. But Perkins said the general had only the best interests of the military at heart.

“Increasingly there is this idea that there are no moral absolutes, but that is absolutely not true,” Perkins said. “And it is not true that we can’t make moral judgments in the public realm. The idea that the general can’t state his personal opinion on a moral matter is wrong.”

Both the HRC and SLDN demanded an apology from Pace and have called on the Pentagon to end its so-called discriminatory practices. HRC President Joe Solmonese said Pace’s comments were “irresponsible, offensive and a slap in the face to the gay men and women who are currently serving with honor and bravery.”

“What is immoral is to weaken our national security because of personal prejudices,” Solmonese said in a news release from the organization.

C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of the SLDN, said in a news release that the 65,000 homosexuals serving in the military deserve Pace’s “praise, not his condemnation. As a Marine and a military leader, General Pace knows that prejudice should not dictate policy.”

But Osburn’s figure of 65,000 homosexuals in the armed forces on active duty and in the reserves was drawn from the Williams Project at the University of California-Los Angeles, a center founded by liberal businessman and philanthropist Charles R. Williams. That figure is an estimate which could not be confirmed by Baptist Press with any government authority.

Conservative public policy advocates like Perkins and Mitchell worry that Pace may suffer censure for speaking the truth. Don Wildmon, founder and chairman of the American Family Association, who also served in the U.S. Army, said he believes Pace may even be forced to step down from his position.

“There is a pretty good chance that he’ll be removed,” Wildmon said. “All he’s asking to do is to uphold the law, but homosexuals are now using his comments as an excuse to get the military to approve their abhorrent behavior.”

If there is any attempt to force him out of his position, Perkins said the FRC and other conservatives would mobilize their resources to defend him. “If that happens, we’ll be ready to go to war,” Perkins said.

“The warrior class is the only place left in life that hasn’t yielded to political correctness,” Perkins said of the military. “If it falls, nothing stands in the way of the immersion of our culture in political correctness.”

Wildmon said homosexual activists have been attempting to overturn the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy since it was enacted by in 1994, even though it has been shown to be a good and fair standard for maintaining order and discipline. But Pace’s recent comments, although truthful, may provide activists with additional momentum in their push for change in the military, he said.

“The homosexual lobby has a lot of friends in Congress,” Wildmon said. “And even in the high ranking offices of the Pentagon they’ll go along with it to avoid bad publicity, despite knowing in their heart of hearts that it’s wrong to overturn the policy.”

In a statement March 13, Pace acknowledged a “wide range of opinion” on the military’s policy toward homosexuals, but stopped short of the apology demanded by homosexual activists. The general instead said that the Pentagon has “a policy in effect, and the Department of Defense has a statutory responsibility to implement that policy.”

“In expressing my support for the current policy, I also offered some personal opinions about moral conduct,” Pace said in his statement March 13. “I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates refused to comment on Pace’s remarks during an interview on the Pentagon Channel, the internal television network of the Defense Department. Personal opinion, he said, has no place at the Pentagon.

“What’s important here is that we have a law, a statute that governs ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Gates said on the Pentagon’s network. “That’s the policy of this department, and it’s my responsibility to execute that policy as effectively as we can. As long as the law is what it is, that’s what we’ll do.”

Wildmon said the AFA is asking Americans to send letters in support of Gen. Pace to President Bush, encouraging him to keep the military’s policy on homosexuals in place.

“Military officials cannot respond politically. He needs public support. It takes two minutes to send an e-mail to the White House saying, ‘Please support this man,’” he said.

Mitchell said he believes Pace said something that needed to be said, and “something that everybody knows deep down. It is unfortunate that the president hasn’t said the same thing.”

As for the homosexual lobby, Mitchell said activists should simply leave the military alone because it has functioned well without their plan for “social engineering.” Though the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy became official after his departure from the military, the rules were still understood during his 12 years of service, he said.

“You might have suspected that someone was homosexual, but you never made an issue of it unless it was blatant,” Mitchell said. “You were always very careful about accusations. But if it was discovered, it always had the potential to cause friction and disorder in a unit. In a place where you have communal showers, you don’t want to be observed by someone who views you as they should view the opposite sex. Even so there wasn’t a witch hunt.”

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  • Gregory Tomlin