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. tehheh

    That need for tolerance extends to people in the military. Just because they don't like someone - or the way someone lives - in their unit doesn't mean they have a right to try to destroy that person. Putting on the uniform doesn't mean it's OK to make life miserable for people who are different that you. Focus on your common goal: to protect and serve the United States and its citizens. And thank you for doing that.

    June 1, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  2. Charles

    Well said Derek and very true.

    When a liberal has a dissenting opinion it is just that, an opinion. When anyone disagrees with the liberal viewpoint, they are labeled as dumb, redneck, hateful, white power, nutjob, etc by the left. It is just a sleazy, lowbrow tactic to attempt to undermine conflicting information and/or challenges to liberal views.

    Stay strong though, voice your opinion, and identify and stand strong against the generalizations and labelling from those supporting the extreme left.

    June 1, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
  3. Rob W

    Bible quotes for the new conservatives:
    "Love thy neighbor...unless you really do't like him."
    "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones...except at gays."

    June 1, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
  4. tell the truth

    pretty soon, the military will be all gay people anyway. then they will be upset because hetero's are making babies to replace the army, and won't enlist. there just ain't no way for everyone to win, except the American Psychological Association in their destructive agenda for America.

    June 1, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
  5. Jack

    Here,s the deal, if you speak against the gay lifestyle the gays in the media will not post your post. Gays will call you a hater,bigot,closet gay, religious fanatic etc. We people who feel it's wrong have no voice anymore. I'm going to post on a different network from now on and will avoid any cnn news.

    June 1, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    June 1, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
    • Cowwet

      Go watch your lies on FoxNEWS...

      June 1, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
    • Charles

      Cowwet you are weak

      June 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
    • Jason Woods

      I guess between the Zionist Conspiracy, the New World Order Conspiracy and any others I forgot to mention, there's apparently room under the tin-foil hats for the GLBT Media Conspiracy. You sir, are irrational. How about the open conspiracy to openly oppress people with Judeo-Christian ideals. You're espousing one conspiracy while making another one up.

      June 1, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
    • wm scot

      PERFECT ! See ya !

      June 1, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
  6. Charles

    This article is a joke.

    Survey soldiers that have served in combat, they personally don't want DADT lifted. Despite the left wing citing numerous surveys for lifting DADT and claiming a lack of any supporting keeping it, numerous surveys have been done that show front line soldiers, not air force desk jockeys, are against it. The reason is, that the two things that seperate our military from others, and consequently make us the best, is our training and the level of trust you have in the man next to you. Think big picture, what is best for the military as a whole, not for the individual. The individual here is a small percentage of gay men and women that care more about themselves than the greater good.

    Regardless of whether it passes or not, it is insulting how the Obama administration has gone about doing it. They indicated they would allow the studies to be concluded to see how the changes would effect each service, so there was objective evidence to fall back on regarding the how and when aspect of moving forward. Instead, Pelosi and Obama caved into the gay and lesbian special interest groups, and despite a letter from the Chief of Staff of each service, decided to push it through regardless. Thanks for the "new brand" of polotics Obama. What an ego, people that know nothing about what is best for the military making policy for it and disregarding the subject matter experts that are well versed in the field.

    Between this and a 1.4% pay raise over last fiscal year it is clear tha Obama and his administration do not care at all about the troops. Actions speak louder than promises Mr. President.

    June 1, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
    • John

      How many soldiers have you surveyed and what does it matter whether they've been in "combat" or not? we were treated to the same logic when women were allowed into the service and then, God forbid, into comb. I just don't understand what the fear is. Don't you think gays are already serving? If you agree with that, what exactly do you think repealing "don't ask, don't tell" will do that isn't already being done?

      June 1, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
    • KLD0827

      You would have no trust in your comrade just because he/she was gay/lesbian? You think being gay/lesbian or straight has any bearing on how a person would fight for what they love?

      June 1, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
    • Charles


      I have spoken to alot of guys that I used to serve with, and my brother who currently serves. The surveys have been done on a much larger scale by publications such as Army Times and various other service related mags.

      Did you think before you asked this question? I am not criticizing you, I am really asking. Why do you think man in combat may have to toatally and unconditionally trust the person to their left and right? Take 5 minutes and try and imagine what a firefight is like, and then take another five minutes imagining the numerous reasons why you have to have the strongest of bonds between the men in your squad. Then remind yourself that what you thought of can't possibly even compare to what it's really like to be there in person.

      The problem is not with gays serving, the problem is we need to do what's best for the services. I believe that the needs of the many are more important, and in this case that translates to the men and women currently in uniform. It does not mean settling for what's second best because a group of people, the majority of which are not willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of putting themselves in harm's way for others, are thinking about themselves as individuals and putting that ahead of the majority best interests. What's best is not to create rifts in the team dynamic by having openly gay men and women i serving.

      June 1, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
    • KLD0827

      Your words are nothing but fear. Men feared allowing women to serve. Do they have that same fear? Fear is overcome by allowing people to prove themselves. I must say, there are some current soldiers I'd rather have discharged and replaced with someone who is an outstanding citizen. Right now, the military has a bad name for who they have enlisted. No one can prove themselves if never given the opportunity. The good ones could already be what you fear. Would it make a difference if you found out the truth? Probably not since they have already been given an opportunity. Fear destroys!

      June 1, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
    • FrankNYC

      Problem is if you didn't trust that person i the back in the rear with the beer and the gear then you will never fully trust them on the battle field because that trust and that comraderie is earned and built up over time and if there is a major reason why those men do not trust each other back on base then they will never get it together in the field which endangers lives. it only takes one second of hesitation and your brothers can die.

      And John, the difference between combat troops and a desk pogue is that if you ride a desk all day and you dont like the guy next to you, maybe you push extra paperwork onto him or maybe you dont help him out when he's swamped but when guys dont trust each other in combat people die when there is no need and THATS the difference. Any service member will tell you that.

      June 1, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
    • FrankNYC

      KLD0827....No for nothing if they are serving they already ARE outstanding citizens because there are lots of others who would not trade places with them and if the others are so outstanding then why haven't they signed up?? It's only one mans opinion but I'm not sure that you should be judging the character of our servicemen and women.

      June 1, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
    • Charles

      KLD0827, you are a sadly unethical person for judging anyone in the military, any of which has done more good with their livesand personally sacrificed more for OTHER people and the common good than you.

      June 1, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
    • Kristi

      I COMPLETELY agree with the fact that it this has been handled the wrong way. You may have something on your agenda to get done, but you'd better be listing to all the key players & getting their input about HOW to make it happen. I am amazed that not all the military comments are in, but Congress is already voting to repeal. For shame. Great leadership does not merely say "I want you to do this", but it provides the inspiration, collaboration, and practical support needed to help move a group forward in actually accomplishing something. Bad "leadership" being displayed at this time.

      June 1, 2010 at 6:07 pm |
  7. Jack

    Is this post being run by gay's. If we post against it's not posted. What ever happened to being non-biased?

    June 1, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
    • MannaTi

      Jack...LMAO, Directly above and below your post are two anti gay posts from people who have posted a number of times on this page.

      June 1, 2010 at 6:53 pm |
  8. Derrik

    Apparently anyone who doesn't adhere to the liberal agenda is considered a hate group. "You are against unnatural relationships? Hate group!" "You are against the killing of babies? Hate group!"

    June 1, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
  9. Vic of New York

    The thing about Conservative organizations – whether they go by the name of "Family Research Council" or otherwise – is that these people are just like the Taliban and the Iranian Clergy.

    It doesn't matter whether they are Protestant, Catholic, Muslim or whatever. Extremist Conservatism is a plague on society any way you slice it or dice it. Like the Serpent at the Garden of Eden, Conservatives will feed you any line of reasoning to get you to eat from the fruit. That fruit is loaded with cyanide, hatred and self-destruction. Conservatives talk a story about "freedom" when what the really mean is imposing their views on everyone – like it or not.

    These guys are the plague spoken of in the Bible and should be treated as the plague they are.

    June 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
    • Derrik

      Not sure there is any sense to this post, just a lot of irrational generalizing.

      June 1, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
  10. Sally

    I couldn't agree with Harry Knox more. How sad that in 2010 we still have to stand so vigilant against hatred in the guise of righteousness.

    June 1, 2010 at 3:15 pm |
    • Derrik

      I think it is sad to force people into situations where they clearly feel that something is wrong.

      June 1, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
    • Adventure Calling


      I agree, isn't it sad that the LGBT individual who choose to serve are forced to hide? That their loved ones are forced to lie, and hide as well. Yes, so sad when people are forced into situations they think are wrong...

      June 1, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
    • Derrik

      Just saying there are two sides to this and apparently everyone is willing to be very adamant about their side. I am still waiting on someone to show me proof that this lifestyle is not a choice?

      June 1, 2010 at 4:38 pm |
    • Mr Bretz

      Two things, Derrick:
      1. You don't need a study. Just go meet and spend some time with some gay people. Not one will say they chose to be gay. Not a single one. This is based on my experience.
      2. Go get a life. With the volume of responses you have posted here, you have either too much time on your hands or a real problem. I have been told by my gay friends and associates, that people who even care this much about this topic usually have issues. Think abou that.

      June 2, 2010 at 3:58 am |
  11. Mavent

    How do you argue with people who are so insane that they think your very existence somehow infringes on "their religious freedom"?

    June 1, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
  12. Ray

    Amen! These right-wing folks want to impose EVERYTHING their way. Grow up and be tolerant, like the Bible says–Love thy neighbor as thy self.

    June 1, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
  13. Daryn Guarino

    If your faith is so weak that the actions of other people can undermine it, you need to reexamine your beliefs. Gays served in the military in the past, serve today, and will serve tomorrow. Changing whether they can speak of their orientation changes nothing regarding this fact.

    As for the "how can we ask soldiers to shower with gays?" question. The answer is that they are, today, already showering with gay people and it hasn't been an issue. Care to explain why it will be a problem tomorrow?

    All I care about is that my fellow soldier protects me as well as I plan to protect him. If the fellow in my foxhole has a crush on me, I imagine he will protect me that much more fiercely and I do not have a problem with that. I really don't care what the person he kisses looks like as long as he shoots straight and true.

    June 1, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
  14. skiingrush

    I hate religion.. I love gays.. especially the gays that fight for my american rights.. the religious folks need to step outside that small box they live in and open their small minds!!

    June 1, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
    • Jack

      Here,s the deal, if you speak against the gay lifestyle the gays in the media will not post your post. Gays will call you a hater,bigot,closet gay, religious fanatic etc. We people who feel it's wrong have no voice anymore. I'm going to post on a different network from now on and will avoid any cnn news.

      June 1, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
    • Davidhas19

      No one care Jack.

      June 1, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
    • MannaTi

      Jack, are you blind? There have been any number of anti gay posts on this page.

      June 1, 2010 at 6:45 pm |
  15. Ken

    Rob- You wish people to die horrific deaths in car fires? What kind of person are you?

    June 1, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  16. mbh91

    to all those opposed to the repeal, i would just like you to remember that there was a time when we had this same arguement about allowing females to serve. many people thought that would destroy the military, how could men servre alongside women, etc. this is a waste of time and money, any able bodied american over 18 should be able to serve w/out fear of any prejudice

    June 1, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
    • Derrik

      Being female is not a choice, being gay is.

      June 1, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
    • Kat

      @Derrik: Being gay is not a choice.

      June 1, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
    • Derrik

      @Kat, please explain to me how it is not a choice? It is against nature; which means that is it is not inherited (impossible mostly) and therefore must be physiological?

      June 1, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
    • Cowwet

      Derrik... grow up and get educated. being gay is NOT a choice. You probably think it's a disease that can be treated... Sad.

      June 1, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
    • scott

      Even if being gay were a choice, it still shouldn't matter.

      June 1, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
    • Derrik

      I do not believe it is a disease that be treated. I do believe that it is choice. Maybe someone does desire the same, but does that make it right? Then it comes down to lack of will power.

      June 1, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
    • Cason

      Being gay is not a choice, research points to genetics/order of birth/nurture/etc to people be inherently gay.

      Research aside, why does it makes sense for someone to "choose" to be gay? Many gays, especially in socially conservative areas, are ridiculed and socially separated. No one chooses to live like that.

      And as for you, "even if they feel that way, its still a choice" comment, thats like say black people are sinners, and they choose to be black because they can just pain themselves white. You direction you look at it is wrong, you observe as if gay is something you "go to" to be visibly gay, but it is something you "come from".

      June 1, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
    • Derrik


      So you are saying that it is by nurture not nature that being are this way? I have yet to see any research that solidifies someone being helplessly gay. If there is such evidence I would like to review it.

      Not that I am saying gay people are drug users or gamblers, but those people also feel compelled to gamble or use drugs because the life they have witnessed, does that make it right? I am asking for clarification on why it is not a choice?

      June 1, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
    • Derrik

      Also please explain the relevance to black people being sinners? I have no ill will there, seems like this racial argument was brought up to dumb down the discussion.

      June 1, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
    • Karl

      @Derrik – I do not believe it is a disease that be treated. I do believe that it is choice. Maybe someone does desire the same, but does that make it right? Then it comes down to lack of will power.

      So every day you wake up and think to yourself "Dear God please don't let this be the day I slip up on my will power and be gay?" If being gay is a choice so is being straight. For you being straight is a conscious decision you make every day? You actually have to convince yourself you're straight? From your posts you come across as a pretty natural straight person, just like every gay person I met comes across as being pretty naturally gay. No decision processes there...

      June 1, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
    • Derrik

      I think what you are exposed to will ultimately determine what kind of mate you are attracted to. I do not believe that you are predisposed to a certain type of woman. I think your attractions develop and with that knowledge, I think that maybe someone may have developed in a different way acquiring an attraction to someone of the same gender.

      June 1, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
    • Davidhas19

      -There have been studies that have shown that the type of mate we are attracted to has a significant genetic basis. Identical twins separated at birth have been to be attracted to the same features in their mates (hair color, eye color... etc). These studies done with identical twins show that an individual's preference has as much to do with nature (ie. genetic makeup) as it does with nurture. Therefor, claiming someone is gay by choice indicates an fairly uneducated stance.

      June 1, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
    • Mr Bretz

      I wonder when you chose to be straight? Do you remember the moment??? Considering this makes you realize how wrong you are about choosing to be gay.

      June 1, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
    • Derrik

      I would ask how large were these studies? And if this was an exact scientific fact, it would be taught. It is, however, just a hypothesis at this point with tests that point to the possibility. The uneducated comment would be warranted if there was hard proof, not some test on a small group. It is hard to be definitive on this, but you are educated because you saw a study that someone did and lead them to believe something? I can say that science has reversed itself a few times on a lot of things and it is because there is a lot to this world and it takes years to figure somethings out.

      One example was how bad the yolk of a egg was for you, but was reversed in another study. Just saying substantial proof I will look at. Also, do you have a link to reference this study?

      June 1, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
    • Derrik

      Mr. B.
      Aw, the sarcasm and wittiness. No wonder we can't get far in conversations. He said he married and had two children. I was curious as to if he knew going into the marriage that something was not right with the marriage etc.

      You are probably for free speech as long as the questions that are asked don't make you uncomfortable?

      June 1, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
    • Mr Bretz

      Derrick, I did not mean to be witty. As opposed to studies, I happen to know several gay people. At first, I was a little horrified that a couple of guys moved in near me. But after a few years, I noted they had taken the worst house in the neighborhood and made it one of the best. They were great for the rest of. None noticed they were there. As time went by, I met some of their friends and finally asked them some of the questions you bring up. Not one of them chose to be gay. Now this was an older neighborhood and virtually all of their friends were certainly over 45 or 50. All they wanted to do was lead a life, have a good job, have friends, and be like everyone else. As time went by, I found being gay had nothing to do with anything. Perhaps you will find yourself in a situation sometime when you views may broaden. It will enrich your life.

      June 1, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
    • Derrik

      Mr. B.
      Outside what a persons moral beliefs are, I am against the quick repeal. And I got side tracked with all the Christian hating going on.

      My intent was to discuss the fact that this a major decision that will affect a lot of people's lives, and should not be rushed in order to fulfill a campaign promise.

      Just as you say that people should be able to be open in the military there are lots of people who feel the opposite way and feel it will affect the way they serve. I think it is important to understand the implications of this decision.

      June 1, 2010 at 6:08 pm |
    • Jimmy

      Ha, uneducated like sticking something in the wrong hole?

      June 1, 2010 at 6:10 pm |
    • Derrik


      Probably not the best way to gain credibility.

      June 1, 2010 at 6:11 pm |
  17. PENNY K

    I don't care if someone tells me or not if they are gay; it's their choice. But I am so sick of the so called Christian right trying to shove their religion down any and all throats. Like all humans, they are as full of hypocrisy as the rest of us, why don't they just go to church if it pleases them, or not, and let the rest of us deal with our own spirituality. Uttering a catch phrase does not improve my relationship with God; opening my heart in those private moments when it's God and me, one to one, does. It's my business. Leave my religious beliefs alone: THAT'S WHAT THIS COUNTRY WAS FOUNDED ON. FREEDOM TO BELIEVE OR NOT, WORSHIP OR NOT....HOW DO YOU SAY CULT?

    June 1, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
    • Derrik

      Outside of religion it is apparent that men with men or women with women is not supposed to be? Ever think about nature?

      June 1, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  18. Rob

    I hope all the people in the Family Research Center die in a horrific car fires. Just sayin.

    June 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  19. Jim

    We've never asked them before, but they've been showering together for years. What's the difference?

    Under DADT, service members have been told to lie about themselves to serve their country which is a direct contradiction to the Military code and to the principles upon which this nation was founded.

    The Family Research Council was founded to protect the ability to discriminate, not to protect families.

    June 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  20. Eric

    Does anyone else get the feeling that CNN has the "Belief" blog as a joke? The believers who post on it seem like the only ones not in on it. Some brilliant person at CNN must have said "Lets give the believers a place to spout their bigotry and hate. Then they will justify it using the bible!! Funny stuff!!!".

    June 1, 2010 at 3:05 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.