Military weighed religious concerns on DADT report
November 30th, 2010
05:13 PM ET

Military weighed religious concerns on DADT report

By CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor Eric Marrapodi in Washington

The Pentagon's long-awaited study on its policy against gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military found that repeal of the controversial policy would face resistance from some service members on religious grounds, but that repeal would not require anyone to change their personal views or religious beliefs.

"Some feared repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell might limit their individual freedom of expression and free exercise of religion, or require them to change their personal beliefs about the morality of homosexuality," the report says. "The views expressed to us in these terms cannot be downplayed or dismissed."

But, it said, "Service members will not be required to change their personal views and religious beliefs; they must, however, continue to respect and serve with others who hold different views and beliefs."

The same holds true for the military's chaplain service, the report says.

"Chaplains, in the context of their religious ministry, are not required to take actions inconsistent with their religious beliefs, but must still care for all Service members," it says.

The report is not without critics. One of the most vocal has been former Marine Tony Perkins, who is head of the conservative Christian group the Family Research Council.

"Congress should hold extensive hearings on this topic, on both the findings and methodological weaknesses of this report, before taking any action to overturn current law," he said in a statement issued Tuesday. "No level of risk should be acceptable merely to advance a radical social agenda."

While many chaplains opposed changing the law, the study found that of the 145 chaplains surveyed, only three said they would leave the armed services or retire if the law was repealed.

For decades in the United States military, various religious groups have had to co-exist on military bases and on the front lines regardless of theological differences. Even in the sprawling Pentagon headquarters in Washington, D.C, Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus all share the same chapel space, a practice that is shared on many military bases around the world.

But the issue of a repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell has been particularly worrisome among chaplains who are ordained by denominations who oppose the practice of homosexuality.

A religious group or denomination that is recognized by the military must endorse a clergy member to serve as a chaplain. The report says they reached out to "approximately 200 ecclesiastical endorsing agencies that endorse military chaplains, to gauge the likelihood of continued endorsement in the event of repeal." If a religious group or denomination pulls its endorsement for a chaplain that individual can no longer serve in the U.S. military.

The report says they received written responses from 77 of the groups they contacted, but those 77 groups represented over 70 percent of the chaplains in the armed forces. They found that "most expressed opposition to a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, based primarily on theological objections to homosexuality. However, none stated that it would withdraw its endorsements for military chaplains if the law were repealed."

Despite the fact they would not pull their endorsements for chaplains, "A significant portion of the respondents did suggest that a change in policies resulting in chaplains' free exercise of religion or free speech rights being curtailed would lead them to withdraw their endorsement," the report said.

The report authors said dissenting views were taken into consideration.

"Existing regulations state that chaplains 'will not be required to perform a religious role ... in worship services, command ceremonies, or other events, if doing so would be in variance with the tenets or practices of their faith.' At the same time, regulations state that 'Chaplains care for all Service members, including those who claim no religious faith, facilitate the religious requirements of personnel of all faiths, provide faith-specific ministries, and advise the command.'"

According to the report, two chaplains were included on the panel that complied and developed the report. They said they did so because they recognized how challenging an issue this would be for the chaplain corps.

The responses of many of the chaplains consulted for the report mirrored the broader religious population in many ways, specifically in the Christian church.

"In the course of our review, we heard some chaplains condemn in the strongest possible terms homosexuality as a sin and an abomination, and inform us that they would refuse to in any way support, comfort, or assist someone they knew to be homosexual. In equally strong terms, other chaplains, including those who also believe homosexuality is a sin, informed us that 'we are all sinners,' and that it is a chaplain's duty to care for all Service members."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Church and state • Holocaust • Military • United States

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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.