How Ending DADT Isn’t a Blow to Religious Liberty

Why are some religious groups, whose rights to deny membership, services or even hospitality or basic human dignity to BGLTIAQ persons within the framework of their own polities, opposed to the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law? According to Harry Knox at CNN’s Belief Blog, it’s because they see the law’s repeal as a threat to their freedom. Yes, full human rights for some means diminished “freedoms” for others. Specifically, Knox says, it’s that millitary chaplains whose religions “disapprove” of homosexuality will no longer be able to continue disapproving. Or, to put it right out there, it’s a a threat to their freedom to discriminate. Knox quotes a letter from chaplains who support the repeal of DADT:

Chaplains are fully aware of their duty to all who they counsel. Writing in support of a letter from dozens of religious organizations calling for repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” – including the Episcopal Church, the Union of Reform Judaism, the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church – Captain John F. Gundlach, a retired U.S. Navy Chaplain noted that:

“… as military chaplains, we routinely work with service members whose faith traditions and belief systems are different from ours. The idea that repeal of DADT will infringe on our religious liberty is insulting to all the serving chaplains who professionally minister to and with people of diverse beliefs every day.”

Knox goes on to point out that all the objections groups like the Family Research Council, who oppose the repeal of DADT and other measures that would give LGBTQIA persons full equality in our society, already have protections in place that would allow them to “disapprove” all they want. Knox writes in response to Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who seems to believe that someone must be discriminated against in both the U.S. military and U.S. life. If we’re not dissing bisexuals and gays, then the mother of all reversals will come, we’ll have to start dissing hardcore Christians who disapprove of the “gay lifestyle.” Perkins writes:

This means that all 1.4 million members of the U.S. military will be subject to sensitivity training intended to indoctrinate them into the myths of the homosexual movement: that people are born “gay” and cannot change and that homosexual conduct does no harm to the individual or to society.

Anyone who points to the mountain of evidence to the contrary – or merely expresses the personal conviction that sex should be reserved for marriage between one man and one woman – runs the risk of receiving a negative performance evaluation for failing to support the military’s “equal opportunity policy” regarding “sexual orientation.”

For no other offense than believing what all the great monotheistic religions have believed for all of history, some service members will be denied promotion, will be forced out of the service altogether, or will simply choose not to reenlist. Other citizens will choose not to join the military in the first place. The numbers lost will dwarf the numbers gained by opening the ranks to practicing homosexuals.

Sounds kinda like what lesbian, bisexual and gay service members are going through right now. Again, it’s the great reversal, in that freedom for one means discrimination for another. What Perkins fails to realize is that repealing DADT is meant to open freedom for everyone. The right to discriminate from the pulpit or pew is still open for hardcore Christians whose denominations or churches oppose full rights for all citizens. Their preachers, protected by free speech laws, could still disapprove buckets from their pulpits, and their churches can still refuse to marry anyone they like. But Knox says that’s not enough:

Those who would call that commitment to America a threat to our core values are beyond cynical. Groups like the Family Research Council, screaming for preservation of their privilege to discriminate, are not defending liberty. They instead seek to impose their particular brand of religion on all of us by making it the law of the land.

I think Knox is right on — what this kind of defense of liberty is about is defending one’s right to dehumanize other people without social penalty. That is, they want to be able to say who’s human and fully deserving of all the rights and privileges of society without facing challenge or censure that would upset their understanding that their view of the world is THE view of the world. It’s not just that they want to impose a law, it’s that they want to keep control of the way we all perceive the world. And this is a world in which human dignity is in short supply, and to allow it to one denies it to another. That’s not the America, nor the religion nor even the world that I live in.

And yet — I can see how a major change like the DADT repeal would be very threatening to a person who believes that the foundations of civilization rest on our ability to reserve rights for some by getting rid of or expelling rights for others. Is there a way to help people empathize through that fear of being discriminated against, to show that the very fear they hold over DADT’s repeal is the fear that LGB service members currently face?

The question is, can we engage in dialogue with folks who are dead set on discrimination in order to come to terms on this issue? I don’t know that presenting the “facts” — that no basic freedoms are being threatened here for the Family Research Council and others, whereas lesbians, bisexuals and gays who are serving under DADT have their real human rights denied every day — is going to make much impact. And I wonder (and here I go off on my philosophical bent) do we really know what “freedom” is, or do we all have different understandings. And if that’s true, well, what do we do about that? Any thoughts?

You May Also Like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *