A group of social conservatives and retired military chaplains held a press conference in Washington today to argue that the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy would have an adverse impact on the religious freedom and careers of military chaplains.
Allowing gay men and women to serve openly in the armed forces "steals from the chaplain their religious freedom," according to retired military chaplain Col. Rich Young. He argued that chaplains will be "muzzled" if the policy passes and that "soldiers and families [will] no longer have the benefit of the full council of God."
Participants at the press conference suggested that chaplains who oppose gay marriage and believe homosexuality is immoral might see their careers hurt and lose the ability to honestly counsel service members.
Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian non-profit group, said that repeal would mean that military policy will for the first time be "at odds with the major tenets of the major religions represented in the armed services."
Allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly will "create a crisis of conscience for the chaplains," he said.
If the policy is repealed, it is unclear what, if any, direct effect there would be on military chaplains, who are not permitted to speak out on social issues under current policy. Participants at the press conference suggested conservative chaplains may not be able to be honest in marriage counseling or may feel compelled to leave the service.
Lorence suggested a change would reflect a lack of religious tolerance and mandate a "forced suppression to an orthodoxy that marriage can be defined differently or that certain sexual behaviors are ok and not immoral."
The sentiment at the event does not represent the beliefs of all military chaplains: Captain John F. Gundlach, a retired Navy Chaplain, said in a statement that military chaplains "routinely work with service members whose faith traditions and belief systems are different from ours." He is a member of a group of religious organizations backing repeal.
"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," he said. "It is time to realize that bigotry - not one's sexual orientation - is incompatible with military service. It's time for gay Americans to be able to serve our country proudly and openly, with continued courage, honor, and commitment."
The press conference today was organized in part by the socially conservative Family Research Council, whose president, Tony Perkins, complained in his remarks that he had been disinvited from a prayer luncheon at an Air Force Base because of his beliefs.
If the policy is changed, he said, "the approved gospel will be a politically correct gospel" and chaplains may be forced to counsel same-sex couples. He said the departure of chaplains as a result of the change could leave "an insurmountable void."
"Why would we ask these people to carry the burden of this administration's political agenda?" he asked.
Harry Knox, Religion and Faith Program Director of the gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign, countered that "forcing our men and women in uniform to lie about who they are goes against the core religious tenets of all major faith traditions."
"Telling the truth is an American and a religious value," he said.
The chaplains who held the press conference today sent a letter in conjunction with the event to President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates laying out their case.