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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. Brian

    PS to Charles – I believe you meant "get your facts straight" not "strait." Get your grammar straight.

    June 1, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
  2. MrPeach

    Great strawmanning there gents. You line 'em up, you knock 'em down.
    Both of you clearly have a poorly formed notion of what a "right" is.

    June 1, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
  3. Noguaranteeofsanity

    The Family Research Council is simply concerned that if "don't ask, don't tell" is repealed, it will be even harder to find single and fit gay men, on websites such as rentboy.com, to carry their luggage on European vacations.

    June 1, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
    • tradewinds

      Perfect!

      June 1, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
  4. Quentin

    I am christian and a marine; but my brother was a marine also years before me and he came out of the closet after the military. I would be honored to fight along side him not because he is my brother but because he was a hero in the beginning of the iraq campaign. I would gladly fight for our country along side any gay or straight marine or service member, just because we all fight for the same cause patriotism and the United States of America.

    June 1, 2010 at 4:57 pm |
    • Malalan

      Quentin, that is what people should be focusing on. Whatever they are, they are there to serve not surf. Christianity is not the only religion out of all the people that served and still serving in the military. To put one's religion a head of another and belittled beliefs that doesn't go with Christianity is just plain wrong. We need more people like you to speak out and give us the facts instead of listening to those that speak from the sidelines but not willing to see the point.

      June 1, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
    • Larry

      Most excellent argument, Quentin. Most correct.

      June 1, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
  5. Nate

    I think the objections based on religion is weak and more than a little sad. If your religion can not stand up to proximity to things you have a problem with, your religion has bigger problems.

    June 1, 2010 at 4:46 pm |
  6. jan

    If you didn't make it a public issue who you choose to sleep with, then who you are might be 100% accepted!

    June 1, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
  7. Charles

    Your are making two fundamental logical errors, while also showing that you know nothing about the nature of serving in the military

    First, you are changing the original responder's comment to suite your needs. The gentleman said if you have an opinion that is different than the liberal left, they use sleazy tacticts in an effort to undermine the legitimacy of your views. In the legal field we call this a strawman, you are creating a situation or set of facts so that you can then subsequently prove it wrong and prove a point. No dice here bro, stick to what was said and let your brilliance shine elsewhere.

    Second, like it or not, making policy does involve constricting individual rights and sometimes it should. If the country's best interest are better served by mildly infringing on individuals, like for example with the Patriot Act, then so be it. Adopting any other stance is simply a "me, me, me" mentality. Think big picture.

    Let me pose a question to you; is mandating that every person in the country must have health care any different? No, it's an infringement of an individual's rights. There are more examples of lefist policy along similar lines in case you are interested, as I'm sure you know.

    Lastly, when joining the military, you give up many of your individual rights, but you do so willingly. You lose your right to do whatever you want whenever you want. You lose your right to say certain things. You lose your right to fraternize (date) with certain people. If you join up you currently also give up the right to be openly gay, because it's in the best interests of the services.

    June 1, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
  8. Larry

    Considering that (if memory serves me correctly) 50 % of all straight marriages end in divorce, discriminating against alternative forms of marriage and lifestyles which might be more solid and long lasting for others does seem a tad hypocritical. I bring this up only because there are many who propose that not only straight marriages are the only valid ones, but straight soldiers are the only valid soldiers or the most valid persons to be soldiering. There seems to be support and more support that indicates otherwise. Narrow minded thinking only produces narrow minded outcomes.

    June 1, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
    • Quentin

      That is not a accurate statistic.

      June 1, 2010 at 4:59 pm |
    • Derrik

      When you spouting off nonsense, who needs accurate statistics? 🙂

      Seriously though, the main thing I learned from my statistics class was that you can make them say anything you want. Just use the numbers that show what you want.

      June 1, 2010 at 5:06 pm |
  9. Wild Bill

    As a seminary student, what Tony Perkins is doing is telling people how to live by without giving them reason to live by the Bible. If you're going to discuss how to live by the Bible, and ignore the Gospel itself (the Sacrifice of Christ and God's grace and fogiveness), then you have just done the Universal Church a major disservice. If Christianity is simply about following the rules in the Bible – see Derrick's earlier post – without receiving what Jesus offers, then forget it. You're offering absolutely nothing, and wasting all of our time!

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

      I can see your point, somewhat. I believe that if something is wrong, then you are to bring it to someones attention, but if you go to someone and have tons of troubles of your own that you are not working to fix, then you are wrong. Now, if that person does not want to hear what you have to say, you have tried and move on. Now if it affects your day to day life you might have some cause for concern.

      June 1, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
    • Derrik

      @Wild Bill,
      Wouldn't God's grace be given to them in the instance they ask for forgiveness? Do you believe I am wrong in thinking that there is a sin to be asked forgiveness for? I believe it will be granted if asked with true faith.

      June 1, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
    • Derrik

      Gender Life, I was asking Wild Bill questions in reference to his religious statements. I find it interesting though, that most attacks at religion are aimed at Christianity, when they are not the most extreme religion. Also, there were prior religious war events that predated the crusades, but the Christian example is the only one referenced. If want to talk about being attacked, etc.

      June 1, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
    • Derrik

      Gender Life,
      I would ask you to research Islam a lot more before placing all this on one religion. And my quotes are being taken out of context a lot on this board. My quotes were for a person who was attending school to become a priest, but did not recognize it a sign according to his religion. I was searching for some grounds to what he was discussing. I posted some versus', hoping he would address them with his beliefs, yet this has been propagated as a hate crime on this board.

      I do have some fundamental disagreements with repealing the ban, but was interested that the DOD wanted to do research, but now things are getting rushed? Given the magnitude of change here, shouldn't we be cautious and methodical about the approach? Peoples lives could be in danger with the extremists on both sides.

      June 1, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
  10. JS

    IF your allegiance is first to Christianity and not to the United States of America and its elected leaders, then you ought not to be in the armed services. Not matter who or what you are. You are there to serve, not have your own anxieties catered to. You are taught to go beyond your own fears, if you're taught well. I don't think there will be a problem with the actual soldiers. The few who will have a problem with this ought to be let go because they don't have the necessary discipline.

    June 1, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
    • TOM

      That's a good point and chaplins in the military need to realize where they are and if they are not up for the "battle" and saving souls – then get out of the war, and the military because alot more of the military needs saving than just gays.

      June 1, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
    • Chris

      This comment is so awesome, I want to marry it.

      June 1, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  11. Paul

    This post is being run by a liberal, deciding to let the rainbow colored comments fly through and putting a halt to the conservative view. It's funny how the liberal media clouds opinions that way!

    June 1, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
    • Paul

      Well used to it by now! Let's give all our money to the illeagal mexicans, too!

      June 1, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
    • pinkdot84

      Actually, there's another article just like this by Tony Perkins who DEFENDS 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' – so no, it's not liberal bias running amok. In this case, there happens to be both sides of the story. Do your research before flipping out on the left wing political agenda.

      June 1, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
  12. Frank

    It seems Derrick likes to hear himself speak. This is now exploited as a joke-which is defense mechanism in full force. Interesting and sad.

    June 1, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
    • Derrik

      to which point of mine are you referencing? Or are you just trying to belittle someone who does not believe the same way you do? Interesting.....

      June 1, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
  13. Thomas H

    Even if the majority of soldiers are against repealing DADT doesn't make it right. As with most changes it takes a while for people to approve of a new norm and while it may make things difficult/uncomfortable for soldiers in the near term it will create a better, more ethical government organization in the long run.

    @Derrik and those questioning if being Gay is a choice. I'm not a psychologist, and am not up to the minute on the research in this field, but the last time I checked, being gay had not been proven as a genetic condition. That means yes it is a choice. There are indications that there are genetic leanings, but environmental development plays a larger factor. That said, just because it's a choice, doesn't mean they're is a right or a wrong choice.

    I did see one point in Tony Perkin's article that resonated with me and that was the warning of crossing the line and reverse discriminating against people who feel, for whatever reason that GLBT is wrong. The goal is to prevent people from discriminating against GLBT not disagreeing. Your views on this subject should be irrelevant in your consideration for promotion, just as your views on any racial group should be irrelevant. If you act on those views outside of the area protected under the first amendment, then that should be taken into consideration, but nothing else.

    June 1, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
  14. Matt

    Airborne83. Get your head out fo your ass and wake up. It's going to happen and nothing is goign to change. You know how regimented military life is and with this it will probably be moreso for the first2-3 years so get over it and move on. But keep fighting the good fight.

    June 1, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
    • AIRBORNE83

      Matt, when it come to a head in an ass, I'll just leave that to you. I'm sure that right up your alley..

      June 1, 2010 at 7:09 pm |
  15. Matt

    I served 8 yrs and in 2 wars. I know some were gay but no one cared. When bullets fly around it's all about making sure the guy/girl on the left and right are still there when everything calms down. No one cares and yes this is religion being forced on people.

    June 1, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
    • Larry

      Matt, that has got to be the best response to this whole debate. Thank you for sharing your opinion and insight. Many could and should learn from you. You said it best.

      June 1, 2010 at 4:38 pm |
  16. Airborne83

    I'll put odds that Harry Knox is gay too!!! I can't believe the commander in chief is willing to sacrafice the integrity and morality of the military by changing policy to accommodate a small percentage of the population. Futhermore, I'm wondering why this issue was accelerated. Why wasn't a decision made based on the results of the surveys issued to the service members?

    June 1, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
    • JOJO

      Um this service member never got the survey, but i say let them serve if they want to do their duty to the country then good on them. There are many in the military now that are gay, but noone cares, we all are serving the same puropse.

      June 1, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
    • Paul

      Yea right, Gender life. What were you in the 41st Pansy division?

      June 1, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  17. Bobbo1948

    These ultra conservative religious zealouts actually believe that guns are the answer, A contradiction of normal christian idealogy. But, they don't want gays involved in the protection of our country. The new christian right is not about preserving individual freedoms, but imposing their will on america, with extreme bias. Be reminded that many of our conservative politicians don't actually subscribe to this ideology, but it gets votes. so they have no problem compromising their true beliefs. Anti-gay sentiment is merely a paranoid retaliation against a segment of our society that does more to speak about the realities of life, than the people who oppose them. There should be no "special" rules governing gays in the military. They have paid their dues. I served before DADT, knew gays in the military and was not offended by their participation. I'll leave that to the paranoid bigots who fear them..................for no legitemate reason.

    June 1, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
    • Mr Bretz

      In non-military life, I figured out the same thing. People are people. Most are good. A few are not. I am happy both sides of this argument seem to echo that.

      June 1, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
  18. Jason Woods

    @Charles: You can't be a victim in one instance(being called a redneck/hick/idiot/racist/bigot) and then impose your beliefs on others in another instance. If you are imposing your beliefs on another set of people simply because they are different than you(thus crushing their rights in the process), you pretty much deserve all the mean name calling. I'm sorry if the upper middle class white anglo saxon protestants are so victimized by this, but the United States was setup to avoid persecution based on your beliefs.

    June 1, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
  19. Ephraim

    Harry Knox starts off his argument with this, "...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..." I wonder why he would quantify those in which he is defending. What do you think?

    June 1, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
    • Greling Jackson

      Because the people in charge who can do something really care not about lives up about money. He has to speak their language to get them to understand.

      June 1, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
    • Paul

      Costing our nation millions? That part of the statement alone is bull mallarky! Damn, liberals! Next they'll want illegal aliens to be able to serve in the military.......

      June 1, 2010 at 4:02 pm |
    • Cason

      *cough* It costs a lot of money to train soldiers that are just going to get discharged..

      June 1, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
  20. JOJO

    This is summed up very easily in one way. Everyone should be allowed to serve and die for their country without fear of discrimination. We are all Americans serving the flag, it doesnt matter who we are as individividuals, we together serve the common good

    June 1, 2010 at 3:48 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.