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ERLC: Military religious rights need safeguards

WASHINGTON (BP) — The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has urged a key congressman to work for passage of legislation to protect the freedom of armed services members and chaplains in the wake of policy changes on homosexuality and same-sex “marriage” in the military.

Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), asked Rep. Buck McKeon, R.-Calif., in an April 16 letter to maintain his vigilance in seeking to guard the conscience rights and religious freedom of military personnel. McKeon is chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.

The Southern Baptist church-state specialist encouraged McKeon to give special attention to approval of the Military Religious Freedom Protection Act, H.R. 3828, which is designed to provide safeguards for the liberties in question.

Policies enforced last year that overturned the ban on open homosexuality in the military and permitted same-sex “weddings” on bases and by chaplains “pose a severe threat to the religious freedom of our military’s chaplains and service members,” Land said in the letter. The religious beliefs of many in the armed forces run counter to the lifestyles of those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, he said.

“[T]here is growing evidence confirming that service members who hold these religious beliefs face discrimination and career penalties if they remain true to their consciences,” Land wrote. “Regrettably, the Pentagon’s policies actively pressure these brave men and women to choose between serving their country and holding true to their deeply-held religious faith. It is a disgrace that our federal government would promote such an untenable climate for any service member of any creed.”

The Pentagon announced Sept. 30 two new policies, one authorizing homosexual “weddings” on bases and another permitting chaplains to participate in such ceremonies. The announcements came only 10 days after the official lifting of the ban on open homosexuality in the military.

The memos regarding same-sex “marriage” violated the Defense of Marriage Act, Land said in his letter to McKeon. That law, signed by President Clinton in 1996, defines marriage federally as being between a man and a woman. It also empowers states to refuse to recognize another state’s gay “marriages.”

The ERLC and other opponents of rescinding Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — as the ban on open homosexuality was known — warned its repeal would result in infringements on the religious liberty of chaplains and other military personnel, as well as harm to the readiness, privacy and retention of service members.

The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, which consists of more than 2,000 largely evangelical Christian military chaplains, has said its members will not perform gay “weddings.” The Roman Catholic Archdiocese for Military Service also has said its members will not officiate at such ceremonies.

In addition to protecting the rights of chaplains and service members, the Military Religious Freedom Protection Act would prohibit same-sex ceremonies on military bases.

The bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R.-Kan., has 45 cosponsors.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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