Republican senators on Monday touted a “religious freedom” provision in the annual defense spending bill that critics say would provide a “license to bully” LGBT service members.
The provision, introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and consponsored by Ted Cruz (R-TX) and David Vitter (R-LA), requires the military to accommodate “actions and speech” reflecting the “conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs” of service members and chaplains. The measure would expand current “conscience protections” in the National Defense Authorization Act, which currently require the military to accommodate only religious “beliefs.”
“For many of our men and women in uniform, their faith and religious beliefs are what sustain them through the enormous pressures and stresses of the battlefield,” Lee said Monday in a statement. “If an environment is created where those service members feel that expressing their religion could be found in violation of military policy and grounds for reprimand, it will have an unsettlingly negative effect on our military.”
“Freedom of religious expression is vital to our military culture, and I am deeply concerned by recent reports that servicemen and women have been prevented from exercising this fundamental Constitutional right,” Cruz added in a separate statement. “No soldier should fear a court martial for expressing his or her faith or made to fear negative reprisals for reporting threats to their freedom to worship God.”
The new “conscience protections” have been included in both the House and Senate versions of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act.
OutServe-SLDN, a group that advocates on behalf of LGBT military personnel, has previously said the provision is more about undermining the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” than protecting religious freedom. The measure “would create a license to bully, harass, and discriminate against service members based on religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any number of other characteristics,” according to the group.
The Obama administration has also said it “strongly objects” to the provision.
“By limiting the discretion of commanders to address potentially problematic speech and actions within their units, this provision would have a significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment,” the White House’s Office of Management and Budget said last week.