A measure included in an annual defense spending bill on Wednesday night could make it harder for the U.S. military to protect gay and lesbian service members from religious bullying.
Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), who proposed the amendment (PDF), said the measure would protect the religious liberties of the Armed Forces. Critics, however, alleged the amendment would make it harder for military commanders to take action against religiously-motivated harassment.
“This amendment is nothing but a thinly veiled attempt to sabotage the climate of inclusion and respect for all that our Commander-in-Chief and Secretary of Defense have called for in our military, and would create a license to bully, harass, and discriminate against service members based on religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any number of other characteristics,” Army veteran and OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson said in a news release.
Fleming’s amendment would expand current “conscience protections” in the National Defense Authorization Act, which currently require the Pentagon to accommodate religious “beliefs.”
“Basically, you can believe what you believe and not be punished for it, but if your actions based on those beliefs are counter to the Uniform Code of Military Justice or counter to what’s necessary, that can be held against you,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) explained last year, when the conscience protections were first added to the defense spending bill.
But Fleming’s amendment would require the Pentagon to accommodate religious “speech and actions” — not just beliefs.
The measure would also weaken a key caveat. The current conscience protections preserve the ability of commanders to take disciplinary or administrative actions against religious expressions “that threaten good order and discipline.” Fleming’s amendment would restrict commanders to taking actions against religious expressions “that actually harm good order and discipline.”
Fleming has warned that religious freedom was under attack in the U.S. military. His claims were based on now-debunked reporting by conservative websites. He also has a history of opposing LGBT rights. Last year, he condemned a same-sex wedding ceremony held on an Army base.
“The liberal social experiment with our military continues. A same-sex marriage-like ceremony should not have occurred at Fort Polk, especially since the people of Louisiana have made it abundantly clear that our state does not recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions,” the congressman said in a statement.
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