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June 1st, 2010
03:16 AM ET

My Take: Defenders of 'don't ask, don't tell' want to impose their religion

Editor's Note: Harry Knox is Director of the Human Rights Campaign's Religion and Faith Program and is a member of President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

By Harry Knox, Special to CNN

Last week, the House of Representatives and a Senate committee both took historic steps forward in protecting the liberty and equality of all Americans, by moving to repeal the discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” law that prohibits lesbian, gay and bisexual people from serving openly in our nation’s military.

This policy has seen thousands of dedicated service members discharged simply because of who they are, costing our nation millions of dollars and many highly-trained soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines - including hundreds with critical language skills desperately needed in our ongoing fight against terrorism around the world.

But some right-wing groups, notably the Family Research Council, see the desire of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people to serve our nation openly and honestly not as a commitment to sacrifice everything for the liberty of all Americans, but rather as a threat to the liberties of some. They claim that those whose faith traditions disapprove of homosexuality will no longer be able to serve as military chaplains if we permit open service.

Never mind that for the life of a nation grounded in religious pluralism, our military and its chaplains have served on behalf of the freedom of all Americans, including those who follow a faith that any individual chaplain might consider blasphemous.

Chaplains are fully aware of their duty to all who they counsel. Writing in support of a letter from dozens of religious organizations calling for repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” - including the Episcopal Church, the Union of Reform Judaism, the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church - Captain John F. Gundlach, a retired U.S. Navy Chaplain noted that:

... 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.

But the Family Research Council and their ilk do not truly believe in protecting the liberty of all Americans, as our dedicated service members, gay and straight, do. They instead are seeking to rewrite history - and the core tenets of our Constitutional freedoms - in order to lead new generations back to the bad old days of repression of individual liberties.

They claim to be the voice of religion while ignoring that a growing number of congregations and denominations see discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as anathema to their core belief that God calls on us to love one another and to practice justice.

In reality, this isn’t about chaplains at all. Groups like the Family Research Council continue to characterize religious liberty and equality for LGBT Americans as an either/or proposition, willfully misrepresenting our nation’s historical experience and ignoring the realities of a nation of many faiths and beliefs that has dealt with such questions for centuries.

Such groups have claimed that federal hate crimes laws will silence preachers, ignoring those laws’ robust protections for free speech and religious expression, as well as the experience in the many states with such protections already in place.

Those groups suggest that federal employment discrimination protections will burden religious employers and co-workers, but belittle a robust religious exemption that has served the interests of religious groups under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for nearly four decades.

They claim marriage equality will force them to support an idea of marriage contrary to their beliefs, yet ignore when state after state adopts language to guarantee that no church or religious leader need recognize or celebrate such marriages, as well as the long history of religious groups, like the Roman Catholic Church, setting their own rules on marriage.

With “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal within sight, lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans will soon be able to serve our nation, and protect our liberties, without being forced to lie.

Those who would call that commitment to America a threat to our core values are beyond cynical. Groups like the Family Research Council, screaming for preservation of their privilege to discriminate, are not defending liberty. They instead seek to impose their particular brand of religion on all of us by making it the law of the land.

That is not the America we know and love, and for which many Americans, gay and straight, have fought and died.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Harry Knox.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Culture & Science • Gay rights • Military • Opinion

soundoff (260 Responses)
  1. religion.blogs.cnn.com

    My take defenders of dont ask dont tell want to impose their religion.. He-he-he 🙂

    April 19, 2011 at 6:48 am |
  2. shelou

    Taxpaying US citizens wishing to serve in a voluntary army during wartime and some graduating with honors from the US military schools are drummed out of the corp because they are .....sinners? Why not have them wear the letter "G" pinned to their uniform?I wonder how we explain that in Iraq and Afghanistan where we fight and die to protect their citizens from extreme religious views. How can we all participate in this kind of job discrimination when highly qualified US citizens are involved? What next, internment camps on US soil? Oh, wait that could never happen.

    September 23, 2010 at 7:32 pm |
  3. Suzanne

    Let's see.
    Gays and lesbians are willing to fight for their country even when the country says that who they are isn't okay.
    Yet some religious group is going to back out of serving their nation because their beliefs aren't being met 100%.
    It's pretty easy to see who is more patriotic.

    September 13, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  4. macguysea

    This topic does not require a diatribe that's 50 pages long. It's simple. The FRC is a HATE GROUP. That's all there is to it.

    September 13, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
  5. Joe

    But if we change the basic foundation of society in a way no other civilization has ever done in world history it's "progress"?

    Abolishing DADT is not changing the basic foundation of society you blabbering moron.

    June 4, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
    • Observer

      Joe...you idiot....military service is NOT A RIGHT!

      September 22, 2010 at 8:03 pm |
  6. James

    How is it that if the temperature of the planet changes a couple of degrees, still well within its recent historical range, it's a catastrophe. But if we change the basic foundation of society in a way no other civilization has ever done in world history it's "progress"? That seems rather bigoted and arrogant towards everyone who has lived before us and their collective wisdom.

    June 2, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  7. Rick McDaniel

    The entire issue is a religious one. The upshot is that the religious right wants to deny those who are different from themselves, basic human rights.......which should clearly demonstrate, what is WRONG with religion.

    June 2, 2010 at 10:04 am |
    • Marlene

      Rick - The religious reicht have *always* opposed *any* expansion of basic civil right to *anyone* outside of white, Christian men, excepting for those who didn't own property. Otherwise, you *had* no rights!

      Why else have there been movements throughout this country's history to force both the political and social structure to recognize that the Fourteenth Amendment was for *everyone*? People forget that at one time it was perfectly fine to place a sign in the window saying "Irish need not apply", "Italians need not apply", "Jews need not apply", ad nauseum?

      June 3, 2010 at 10:41 pm |
  8. V. Sheldon

    It is clear to me that this has little or nothing to do with faith and everything to do with ignorance and bigotry. Well done!

    June 2, 2010 at 8:14 am |
  9. Pangor

    What is the inherent fear coming from some big, burly military men that has them shaking in their boots? Guys who are six foot five and were well-trained in combat and know how to defend themselves, being 'afraid' that the little gay guy next to them might possibly decide to have their way with them or something. That's so pathetic it would be unreal and laughable if there actually wasn't that existing fear! However, you just have to end up laughing sometimes anyway!

    June 2, 2010 at 6:25 am |
  10. Mike in Texas

    Derrik, you said " I do, however believe I have the right to say if I feel something is wrong without someone accusing me of hate."

    I always get a big kick out of "free speech" sloganeers who think "free speech" means they are somehow immune from the consequences of what they say. It's especially funny when they say they have the right to say something while those who hear that something do not have a right to respond unless the response is something the "free speech" sloganeers like.

    I also find the "less hateful than Westboro Baptist Church equals not hateful" whines to be even funnier. That makes as much sense as saying Minnesota is warm in winter because it's not as cold as Alaska.

    I don't know where you've been getting your material, Derrik, but I really think you need to find a better source.

    June 1, 2010 at 11:12 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.