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WH Opposes Religious Liberty Amendment for Military Chaplains

By Todd Starnes

The Obama Administration said it “strongly objects” to a pair of amendments to the 2013 defense authorization bill that would prohibit same-sex marriages on military property and would also protect the religious freedom of military chaplains and service members who are opposed to same-sex marriage.


The two amendments passed the House Armed Services Committee and are expected to be voted on Friday, said Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO). The story was first reported by CNSNews.com.

Akin authored an amendment that would protect military personnel who object to homosexuality based on their moral beliefs. He said military chaplains have faced censorship for their opposition to gay marriage.

“There is a war on religious belief in the military,” Akin said. “Chaplains and service members should not face recrimination or persecution in the military for standing strong on their religious beliefs in opposition to homosexuality.”

Akin’s amendment creates a statutory conscience protection clause for members of the military – and specifically military chaplains.

“It says that chaplains who don’t believe that it’s right to have same sex marriage won’t be forced against their conscious to perform those ceremonies and furthermore – they won’t be punished because of their religious convictions.”

Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS) offered a second amendment banning gay marriages from military installations. Palazzo said he’s trying to reverse current policies that allow private same-sex marriages on bases.

“The administration is causing a lot of confusion within the military community,” Palazzo told Fox News.

The Office of Management and Budget issued a statement Wednesday condemning the amendments, saying the Obama Administration “strongly objects” to the amendment – stating that it would “inhibit the ability of same-sex couples to marry or enter a recognized relationship under state law.”

The OMB said the amendments are “potentially harmful to good order and discipline” and said any attempt to deny service members access to facilities for religious ceremonies on the basis of sexual orientation is “a troublesome and potentially unconstitutional limitation on religious liberty.”

The irony was not lost on Akin.

There’s a terrible irony that people who fight for our First Amendment rights are having those very rights denied,” Akin said. “Their idea of tolerance – you have to think the way they want you to think.”

Akin and Palazzo said they’ve received a number of complaints from service members who said they’ve been reprimanded or punished because of their opposition to gay marriage.

“There’s been some pressure, whether it’s been put on paper or whether it’s been verbal, for people to either get in line or get out of the military and that’s sad,” Palazzo said.

But an advocacy group representing LGBT military personnel blasted the amendments and accused the lawmakers of trying to undermine DADT.

“Mr. Akin is trying to solve a problem that does not exist,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “There are already in place adequate protections for chaplains and service members in this area. No one in uniform is being required to go against their conscience, and no one is being punished for expressing their personal religious beliefs.”

But that’s not true, said Ron Crews, the executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. His organization presented documented evidence of a half dozen instances where military personnel were reprimanded or punished.

“We believe this is the tip of the iceberg,” Crews said. “Some of these chaplains have in fact had their careers impacted. Chaplains have been changed from their positions. Others have been encouraged to retire or leave the service. This has been a slowly progressing event. We are concerned about the long-term effects.”

Sarvis, in a written statement, noted that the allegations of abuse referenced by Akin were not investigated or proven to be factual.

“So let’s get to the heart of the matter,” Sarvis wrote. “Mr. Akin and a few others wish to weaken implementation of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal. The Pentagon, Congress and the American people have spoken on this, and Mr. Akin simply doesn’t like the outcome.”

Sarvis also blasted the Palazzo amendment that would ban gay marriages on military bases.

“It’s transparent, and it’s blatant pandering to the far right,” Sarvis wrote.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters that she agreed with the Obama Administration and opposed the amendment.

“There’s nothing that says that chaplains act against their faith,” she said responding to a question from CNSNews.com. “I don’t agree to that stipulation.”

Pelosi said chaplains have never been ordered to perform same-sex weddings, calling the amendments a “manufactured crisis.”