Our Founding Fathers spoke much about the importance of “freedom of conscience” and its underpinning of all other freedoms. In 1803, Thomas Jefferson said, “We are bound, you, I, and every one to make common cause even with error itself, to maintain the common right of freedom of conscience.”
Recent decisions by the Obama administration and Pentagon leaders threaten this common right, and their assault on freedom of conscience raises new and serious concerns — especially for our servicemen and women. Our armed services were created with an apolitical framework, and this unique platform has helped maintain Americans’ trust and respect for the military. Since repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, however, the administration has looked to the military as a way to advocate a liberal social agenda and challenge Americans’ freedom of conscience.
Last year, the Department of Defense (DOD) said state laws would be acknowledged and upheld when it came to marriage and civil unions. Now, in a heated presidential election season, DOD and the Obama administration are pushing the limits on their promise and the rule of law for the sake of politics. A prime example of this occurred in May, when the first homosexual marriage-like ceremony took place in a chapel on Fort Polk in Louisiana.
Marriage is only legally recognized in Louisiana if it is a union between a man and a woman. Additionally, Louisiana law bans homosexual “marriage” and civil unions from being recognized by the state, regardless of where they were performed. The portrayal of the marriage-like ceremony on Fort Polk as strictly a religious ceremony appears to be a thinly veiled attempt to circumvent Louisiana law and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Even though President Obama has unilaterally decided to shirk his responsibility to uphold the law of the land by refusing to enforce DOMA, the military should not be used a pawn to advance the president’s liberal social agenda.
In July, the Pentagon granted a one-time waiver to members of the armed services to march in uniform during a homosexual-pride parade in San Diego, Calif. The decision by the Obama administration was a clear violation of military rules on service members’ participation in political activities while in uniform. Constituents and members of the military across the United States and overseas have called Congress to let us know they will not stand by as this administration disrespects religious freedom.
Military chaplains are among the most affected by the administration’s social activism. We’ve been made aware of chaplains at military installations being encouraged to resign, threatened with early retirement or reassigned because of their beliefs. This is why we introduced the Military Religious Freedom Act (S. 3256) to protect the conscience rights of our military chaplains. The law would prohibit DOD from using conscience or beliefs as a basis for discrimination or denial of promotion or assignment. Chaplains would have their religious rights protected when choosing whether or not to perform homosexual “marriage” ceremonies or participating in military-sponsored couples’ counseling.
Additionally, the bill would prevent DOD property from being used to perform homosexual “marriage” or commitment ceremonies. Military installations should not be exploited in order to challenge marriage laws in 44 states that recognize marriage only between a man and a woman. Despite the Obama administration’s unilateral refusal to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, it still remains the law of the land. As such, DOD must follow the statute as it seeks to implement policy changes related to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
The president’s focus should be on advancing the best interests of our service members, overall military readiness and national security. While the president tries to push a controversial social agenda, our military men and women are suffering from dangerous defense budget cuts, outdated military equipment, alarmingly high suicide rates and high unemployment following their time in service. With sequestration looming, the president is threatening to keep our men and women on the front lines while reducing their needed resources by another 10 percent.
Our brave men and women deserve better. They are our nation’s great defenders of freedom, and the Military Religious Freedom Act will help afford them the respect they deserve.
Sen. Jim Inhofe is an Oklahoma Republican. Sen. Roger Wicker is a Mississippi Republican. They both serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee.