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GOP backs ‘don’t ask’ advocate

- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 11, 2010

It was no mere broken lunch date to Family Research Council President Tony Perkins: His invitation to speak at a faith event on Andrews Air Force Base was abruptly rescinded last month because he does not agree that openly practicing gays should be allowed in the military.

Mr. Perkins claimed afterward he had effectively been "blacklisted" because of his opposition to dropping the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, and now some prominent congressional Republicans have come to his defense.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor and Rep. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, said they worried that a "new litmus test" was created in the wake of the Air Force's decision to retract the long-standing invitation to Mr. Perkins - a former Marine and an ordained minister - to speak at a prayer luncheon because his views were "incompatible" with those of military personnel who answer to Mr. Obama.

The lawmakers explained their case in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates obtained by The Washington Times.

"If one disagrees with the president, that person is not welcome to participate in military activities. Holding private citizens to such a standard - one not even expected of senior military officials who are often asked to give their expert opinion to Congress - is incredibly disconcerting," they wrote.

Mr. Perkins initially spoke out against Mr. Obama's call to Congress to lift all restrictions on service in the military by gays, made during his State of the Union address. He received a letter on Jan. 29 from Andrews AFB officials canceling his appearance. The base chaplain's office also said Mr. Perkins' views had made some prospective attendees "uncomfortable."

The disinvited speaker struck back, noting that the proposed "don't ask, don't tell" repeal "would result in a zero-tolerance policy toward those who disapprove of homosexual conduct."

In their letter, the Republican lawmakers also called upon Mr. Gates to review Pentagon policies more generally, demanding, "Is it the policy of the Air Force and/or other branches of the armed services to allow only those individuals who agree with the president on all matters of policy to participate in ministry events?"

Separately, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, chairman of the House Republican Conference, also expressed unhappiness over the decision to cancel Mr. Perkins' invitation to speak.

"I am gravely concerned about the implications this action has on First Amendment freedoms. It could potentially set a dangerous precedent of repression and exclusion based on privately held beliefs at odds with current administration policies," Mr. Pence wrote in his own letter to Mr. Gates.

He, too, is demanding an explanation and a review of policies toward speakers, "and under what circumstances invitations may be revoked."

Mr. Perkins, meanwhile, said he is concerned the broken lunch date is symbolic of a much greater debate: Would the sermons of military chaplains who also don't agree with Mr. Obama be censored one day?

"I understand the untenable situation that this creates for chaplains and the men and women in uniform," he said. "I urge Congress, the president and the top leadership of our military to place the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty ahead of the fashionable political correctness of a special interest group."