Friday, May 13, 2011

Military Chaplains Tell Court: Repeal Don't-Ask-Don't Tell

For the past five years, a group of active-duty military Chaplains have been working undercover getting ready to repeal the anti-gay Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell (DADT) policy of the U.S. Military. It's sad that even Chaplains have to work in secret when it comes to gay issues.

But last month, their secrecy ended. The Chaplains filed an amicus brief in support of the repeal of DADT, thus thrusting themselves into the limelight. It was a courageous act, but more importantly, it's an amazing document. Rather than commenting on it, I'm just going to quote some of the better parts, because these Chaplains said it far better than I could.

Here is the link to the full brief if you want to see the original.

This brief is filed on behalf of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy joined by retired chaplains and religious organizations ... Amici filing this brief support both the district court's ruling that the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" ("DADT") policy of 10 U.S.C. -654 is unconstitutional, and the legislative determination that it must be repealed.

[Chaplains] are to "care for all Service members, including those who claim no faith... Captain John F. Gundlach, a retired military Navy chaplain, and current United Church of Christ endorser observes, "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."

The Association of Professional Chaplains, with more than 4,000 members the largest organization of professional chaplains in the United States, has similarly stated that "the beliefs of a faith group about homosexuality do not preclude a chaplain from serving 'both God and the U.S. armed forces,' as claimed by some retired military chaplains who do not want the `don't ask, don't tell' policy revoked."

The anti-gay amici nonetheless suggest that repeal of DADT threatens military chaplains' right to follow portions of the Levitical holiness code to which some subscribe. Both Chief Justice Moore and the anti-gay endorsers cite the proscription of Leviticus 18:22, in particular, stating that one ought not "lie with a man as one lies with a woman."

Yet they fail to note that the holiness code of Leviticus 11-26 directly proscribes many other things as well. It bans eating either rabbit or pork: "You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you." Lev. 11:7-8(NIV). Dining on shellfish - or even on catfish, which of course lack scales - is similarly proscribed: "And since you are to detest them, you must detest their carcasses. Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be detestable to you." Lev. 11:11-12 (NIV).

Military chaplains are entitled to take these proscriptions very seriously, and to hew to them - despite the military's acceptance of service members who openly consume bacon and shrimp, or who relish Southern-fried catfish. Indeed, most of the U.S. Military's Jewish Chaplains are Orthodox rabbis. Yet the religious liberty of these Orthodox Jewish chaplains is hardly threatened by the fact that they must work to serve the needs of Christians and Reform Jews who do not feel themselves bound by Levitical proscriptions - whether relating to diet or sexuality.

The Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) Jewish Chaplains Council, which serves as the endorsing body for Jewish military chaplains, comprises rabbis from the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative), the Rabbinical Council of America (Orthodox), and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform), and meets with three active-duty Jewish chaplains constituting the Chaplains Advisory Group.

"Even though the rabbis from each denomination have differing views of homosexuality, "the online Jewish Chronicle reports, "they were able to agree that the repeal of the law [DADT] would not affect their abilities to serve as military chaplains, said Rabbi Harold Robinson," a Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.), and director of the Jewish Chaplains Council.
"At our meeting a year ago, we came up with a formal position for the Pentagon," said Robinson. "Each [branch of Judaism] sees the matter of homosexuality differently. But the role of our chaplains is pretty much unaffected by that. On a daily basis, we deal with people who do all sorts of things we might be uncomfortable with, whether it's not keeping kosher, or not keeping Shabbat or infidelity. We're especially used to dealing with people who aren't Jewish, and follow their own moral law. We meet everyone in terms of their own personal needs."
If an Orthodox or Conservative rabbi's religious liberty is not threatened by the military service of many Christians and Reform Jews - who tend to openly ignore Levitical dietary rules - it is difficult to see why religious liberty of Orthodox Jewish chaplains, or even of evangelical Christian chaplains, might be seriously threatened by the presence of military personnel who do not pretend to follow the Levitical holiness code in other respects.

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Dear readers -- I am no longer blogging and after leaving these blogs open for two years have finally stopped accepting comments due to spammers. Thanks for your interest. If you'd like to write to me, click on the "Contact" link at the top. Thanks! -- CJ.

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