US military chaplains concerned about freedom of religion

Christian religious leaders balefully greeted the Supreme Court decision on June 26 to strike down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act, signed in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. In an op-ed, Catholic Archbishop P. Timothy Broglio, who serves as chief chaplain to Catholics in US military service, said that Catholic bishops and the Archdiocese of the Military Services remain "resolved in the belief that no Catholic priest will ever be compelled to condone – even silently – same-sex ‘marriages.’”
 
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that DOMA treated same-sex “marriages” as “less respected than others”, thus violating the Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection under federal law. As a result, there is no longer one single definition of marriage for the purposes of the federal government. Individuals states may thus continue to define marriage as they wish, while the federal government must accept the marriages acknowledged by each state. At the present time, only 12 states and the District of Columbia have redefined marriage to include same-sex couples, but efforts are underway to push for a redefinition in other states throughout the country as well.
 
Archbishop Broglio noted that “the Constitution guarantees that no endorsed minister will ever be compelled to perform a religious ceremony contrary to the dictates of his/her faith nor will today’s decision have any effect on the role and teaching ability of a priest or deacon in the pulpit, the classroom, the barracks or in the office.”
 
Questions have been raised the the ruling over potential threats to religious freedom.  Some religious groups and individuals have come under pressure already to affirm same-sex relationships as “marriages,” even if doing so violates their religious principles and identity. In states that have legalized same-sex unions, Catholic adoption agencies have opted to close because they would only place children in homes with a married mother and father. Persons who because of their religious convictions recognize only the traditional understanding of marriage as being between only one man and one woman have faced lawsuits, fines and even threatened jail time. 
 
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who leads the Catholic bishops' committee on religious freedom committee, said the Supreme Court’s ruling poses “a serious threat to religious liberty and conscience rights for countless people of faith.”
 
Of particular concern is that the guarantee of religious freedom in the military may be in jeopardy. Military chaplains have already reported harassment and threats of punishment for promoting and defending Church teaching on marriage. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement that the “Department of Defense welcomes the Supreme Court's decision today on the Defense of Marriage Act.”
 
“Department of Defense intends to make the same benefits available to all military spouses – regardless of sexual orientation – as soon as possible. That is now the law, and it is the right thing to do.”
 
Chaplains and clergy within the armed services are members of the military and therefore federal employees. It is unknown how the Supreme Court’s ruling will apply to military chaplains. When asked in a June 26 press conference how changes will be implemented, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Martin Dempsey said that DoD  will “assess what that means.”
 
Archbishop Broglio voiced hope in the Constitution’s protections of “free exercise of religion” which “ensure that no restrictions or limitations on the teaching of the Catholic faith will be placed on any Catholic priest or deacon in the armed forces.” Furthermore, he remains “confident that people of this great country, no matter the consequences, will continue to promote and defend the good and the truth of marriage as the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife for life.”
 
“Marriage remains what it has always been, regardless of what any government might say,” he stressed.


Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

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