Let freedom ring! It rang so loudly and clearly on June 26, 2013 at this nation’s Supreme Court. It sounded a death knell for blatant oppressors. But it must also serve as a clarion warning of the duplicity and treachery of those who will most assuredly try to undermine its effectiveness and significance, especially in our Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.
Unfortunately, we at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) have long been used to seeing the Constitution trampled upon by the arrogant and ignorant theocratic opponents of religious freedom within the U.S. Military. However, the Supreme Court’s watershed June 26 decision striking down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is a resounding victory for the nation, the armed forces, and the United States Constitution itself. DOMA’s repeal, effective immediately, lifts the once-ironclad, draconian denial of marriage benefits for the partners of servicemembers and veterans. Via the flushing down the toilet of this egregiously anti-gay law that defined marriage exclusively as a union between a man and a woman, the Supreme Court has sent a crystal clear message that the U.S. Military is open to all motivated and capable Americans willing to serve their country. No one need ever again “live a lie,” as a matter of law, as to their sexuality and/or gender preference in our country’s military services. This decision also comes as a firm and severe rebuff to the fundamentalist Christian bigots who have rabidly subjected the civil rights of the LGBT community to a severe and interminable assault.
MRFF has long worked closely with our lesbian, gay, and bisexual allies in uniform. 801 of our over 33,600 clients are from the LGB community alone. Each of these clients has recounted to us in vivid detail their own personal trials and tribulations, depicting a hideous and tragic panorama of collective suffering that has savagely afflicted a grievously oppressed community within the armed forces.
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Under the perniciously cruel “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) regime of enforced “closeting” (read: lying), LGB servicemembers were forced to live a mandated “dual existence,” separating their military careers from a Pentagon-mandated, fictitious personal life of lies. The already Promethean challenges of military life were exponentially compounded by the profound anxieties borne of constantly dwelling in the trembling shadows of innocent and undeserved shame. Uncle Sam literally pointed a big, condemnatory finger at some of our bravest and most valiant men and women in uniform and told them that, despite sacrificing far, far more than the amount of fortitude expected of their fellow servicemembers, they’d still better “shut the hell up” or they’d be ignominiously and summarily booted out of the U.S. armed forces. This dreadful nightmare of civil rights desecration was made all the worse by the officially-sanctioned bigotry emanating from the legion of Christian fundamentalists who are inextricably intertwined in the vast and byzantine DoD bureaucracy. These religious predators oppressively operate and boldly bully quite openly in the armed forces, a phenomenon about which MRFF has long sounded wailing sirens of primal, screaming rage.
Following the recent repeal of DADT, it was no longer the case that servicemembers would be forced to attend the funerals of their comrades-in-arms alone, foregoing the considerable comfort of standing with their partners by their side for fear of being “outed.”
The proverbial (pun intended) writing was on the wall. The cultural shifts of equal protection and respect in the U.S. had rendered the embittered adherents of Jerry Falwell’s hyper-hypocritical “Moral Majority” into dinosaurs – barely living fossils. And such was no less the case in the U.S. military.
However, the Chaplain Corps of the armed forces’ respective service branches have long been a stronghold of fundamentalist Christian supremacy, inveterate conservatism, and essentially universal anti-gay bigotry. Indeed, enormous swaths of the United States military chaplaincy have been allowed to abuse their purely secular role as commissioned military officers. Instead of ensuring the free expression of religion within the military and serving the needs of all faiths, denominations, and persuasions, these chaplains have aimed to transform their commission into a nefarious, sectarian enterprise. In fact, they see fellow servicemembers as a fetching, fertile and fecund “mission field” for coerced conversion. They spurn the “religious pluralism” they’re sworn to uphold per their sacrosanct oaths to the Constitution. They have instead seen fit to devote their duties towards converting the chaplaincy into a launch pad from which to fire an endless onslaught of “Crusader” salvoes for the specific purpose of winning the hearts, minds, and souls of their subordinate targets of proselytization. And who are these “targets”? They are the American servicemembers perceived to be religiously derelict, and accordingly, branded as “unchurched.” That branding, in turn, labels them as stupid, unworthy and fatally lacking in integrity, character, morals, trustworthiness, courage and honor. These predatory religious rogues do not see their chapels as Department of Defense entities owned by the American people. On the contrary, they see them as personal and private ministry buildings where they hold exclusive sway to propagate whatever unbridled bigotry and poison they see fit to espouse. These cowardly military clerics hide under the “free exercise” skirts of the Constitution they so despise, of course. Consequently, these chapels have become hotbeds of anti-Muslim, anti-gay, anti-Semitic, and anti-female prejudice as well as boundless Christian fundamentalist extremism.
Arch-hypocritical fundamentalist Christian extremists such as Col. Ron Crews (USAR-Ret.), executive director for the wretchedly-named Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty (CARL), have been at the vanguard of defending the unchecked “privileges” of these tyrannical chaplains. Their main complaints are disingenuous in extremis. Try not to burst out laughing now. They scream like stuck pigs that their “religious liberty” is under attack. Naturally, what they deliberately fail to mention is that their erstwhile illicit license to illegally proselytize and persecute is FINALLY being held in check by DoD regulations, the Supreme Court and the United States Constitution itself.
A perfect example of the hijack-and-subvert tactics undertaken by fundamentalist Christian chaplains comes in the form of the U.S. Army’s “Strong Bonds” program. Strong Bonds, a program of weekend retreats for “individual resiliency” and “strengthening the Army Family,” is not supposed to be a religious program, although it is wholly (holy?) run by the Chaplain Corps. However, loopholes within the program have allowed reprobate chaplains to commandeer it, regularly turning this so-called “non-religious” program’s weekend events into carefully crafted and choreographed evangelical retreats of Christian supremacy, triumphalism, and exceptionalism. Totally unsuspecting and ill-prepared military family participants are liberally inundated with stacks of evangelical Christian books and literature the very minute they arrive. Further, the “entertainment” is usually provided by evangelical Christian performers/profiteers cum carpetbaggers and the retreat sites are often clearly sectarian Christian campgrounds or resorts.
The celebrated French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac once said, “A flow of words is a sure sign of duplicity.”
Now, please prepare yourselves for a healthy dose of such insipid duplicity. In an amicus legal brief / “flow of words” screed defending DOMA, Crews incontrovertibly concedes that Strong Bonds “is not a religious program.” Yet, at the exact same time he holds this “non-religious” program up as one of his prime examples of a debilitating religious conflict for those poor, defenseless, anti-gay chaplains in a post-DOMA military. Crews whines and wails in CARL’s legal brief that “chaplains and commanding officers from amici’s faith groups who personally administer the programs would face a direct conflict with their faith.” Again, please hold your laughs of incredulity. For as Crews bellows about his alleged beleaguered charges’ “conflict,” he utterly fails to acknowledge that it is a fully self-inflicted conflict. Now, about that dubious duplicity These same chaplains who have fatally abused this taxpayer-funded program by turning it into a program of evangelical Christian retreats are now actually complaining that the program will cause a “religious conflict” for them because of their religious beliefs – beliefs which absolutely never should have been a part of the program to begin with!
Following the sounding of the death knell for DOMA, Crews complained, “Chaplains have been protected by DOMA as they minister to service members and their families in a manner consistent with those sincerely held beliefs. That freedom is now at significant risk.” Oh my. There is a word for that: “chutzpah.”
Crews topped his sour grapes, ridiculous, and baseless tantrum with an especially curdled bit of cream: an endorsement of a raft of faux “religious liberty” amendments to 2014’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), introduced by his fellow Constitutionally-irresponsible ilk who hold elected legislative office in Washington. These amendments are guaranteed to destroy good order, morale, and discipline within the armed forces. In point of fact, they create a virtual “license to kill” by allowing for and legally sanctioning the unrestricted ability of personnel (including chaplains) to persecute, harass, and discriminate against servicemembers on the grounds of religion, gender, and sexual orientation.
History ominously reminds and instructs us that Southern white supremacists were able to hang up their KKK regalia and go underground, become “respectable,” and advance their racist agenda through legislative and other institutional means (see Jim Crow et al.). So, too, will the Christian fundamentalist extremists most assuredly use similarly devious methods to push their own horrendously bigoted docket. It’s as sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The NDAA “religious liberty” amendment campaign is but one among various mendacious methods by which these fundamentalist bullies will launch asymmetric countermeasures in their transparently desperate attempts to attack the precious freedoms borne from the repeals of DADT and DOMA.
Be diligent, my friends, in the face of this certain wrath from these fundamentalists. Expect this blowback and expect it to be ugly. These repugnant opportunists of religious sectarianism have, for far too long, been granted sole leeway to consecrate and define the institution of marriage within the armed forces. Thank you, Supreme Court of the United States, for your grace and mercy (if only by a 5-4 margin)!
Our incessant and unremitting diligence is, as ever, required to protect the equal rights of our LGB brothers and sisters in the armed forces. This requisite diligence is especially important for those in military uniform who have resolutely stepped forward. For it is they who are bravely prepared to offer the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of protecting our own inalienable and bedrock human and civil rights.
Indeed, the personal Christian rights of military fundamentalists must NEVER be allowed to trump the Constitutional civil and human rights of their fellow American brothers and sisters-in arms.