Last Thursday night, President Obama signed this year’s annual defense authorization bill, entitled the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (NDAA), as expected, but in conjunction therewith, he released a statement that many advocates of religious freedom find troubling.
President Obama highlighted a provision found in the NDAA bill and called it “unnecessary and ill-advised.” He was referring to Section 533 that protects the freedom of conscience of military chaplains following the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
Section 533 reads: “The Armed Forces shall accommodate the beliefs of a member of the armed forces reflecting the conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the member and, in so far as practicable, may not use such beliefs as the basis of any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment.”
This provision can hardly be viewed as “unnecessary and ill-advised” in the wake of the sea change imposed on the U.S. military in 2011, jettisoning time-honored policy and placing a stamp of approval on homosexual behavior. It is essential to the notion of religious liberty that our military chaplains not be forced to engage in activities that cut against their deeply-held religious beliefs, like performing marriage ceremonies for homosexual couples. If a chaplain chooses not to participate in that activity, we must ensure freedom in making that choice.
Obama wasn’t at liberty to get rid of that section. The NDAA authorizes military spending and the President does not possess the power to veto any section of it; his options were to either sign it into law or reject the bill entirely. But had President Obama been granted the opportunity…. The President’s troubling comment could be a harbinger of things to come.
Pray for our chaplains as they serve those in harm’s way. As the effects of dropping “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” start to ripple through our armed services, it is imperative that we keep watch over our chaplains’ religious freedoms and ensure their continued ability to shepherd our service men and women without compromising their beliefs.