The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the D.C.-based Interfaith Alliance, has said that a repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy won't affect the religious freedom rights of chaplains, a group of whom are lobbying to keep the policy in place.
Gaddy was responding to a letter sent to President Obama on Wednesday by a group of 40 retired chaplains, who said they were "deeply concerned" that a repeal of DADT would "threaten the religious liberty of chaplains and Service members."
"Put most simply, if the government normalizes homosexual behavior in the armed forces, many (if not most) chaplains will confront a profoundly difficult moral choice: whether they are to obey God or to obey men," the chaplains wrote. "This forced choice must be faced, since orthodox Christianity, which represents a significant percentage of religious belief in the armed forces – does not affirm homosexual behavior."
The letter went on to say that repealing the longstanding policy would result in chaplains being "pressured…into watering down their teachings" and that their ability to freely share their religious beliefs would be "challenged and torn away in a variety of everyday situations."
Gaddy, who said he was "deeply troubled" by the views expressed in the letter, said that a repeal of DADT would "in no way hinder chaplains from voicing their personal moral convictions and theological doctrines," adding that the chaplaincy should "represent the diversity of faiths in the military, not simply one point of view."
Regarding the chaplains' argument that their ability to counsel would be compromised, Gaddy said that "[b]y this logic, we also should ban all service members whose gambling habits, treatment of spouses, and views on abortion, politics, or the economy are not in line with those of the chaplains."
"As a Baptist minister, I frequently counsel people whose beliefs on a number of subjects are not exactly in line with the religious or moral values that I embrace," he said. "Such a challenge in counseling comes with the territory of being a clergy member."
"If forced to interact with gays in the military, this group of chaplains says they will be presented with a moral conundrum. Yet, Jesus said we are to love other people as he loved us-the love of Jesus was inclusive beyond measure and graceful beyond imagination," Gaddy continues.
"Our servicemen and women deserve chaplains who support and comfort them as they carry out their military duties regardless of their individual lifestyles. Sexual orientation is no more a hindrance to that mission now than was racial identity years ago," he concludes. "Repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is a step forward in equality and justice for all citizens. When chaplains find the government's pursuit of these goals to be a threat to their values, we must ask whether something is askew with their values."
The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was made official in 1993 under former President Bill Clinton's administration, who were influenced in part by the brutal murder of petty officer Allen R. Schindler a year earlier.
In recent weeks, gay rights supporters have been increasingly vocal for the repeal of the DADT.
Advocates in Southern California repeatedly interrupted a speech by President Obama earlier this month to voice their opinion on the policy, to which the president conceded his support.
"When you've got an ally like Barbara Boxer and you've got an ally like me who are standing for the same thing, then you don't know exactly why you've got to holler, because we already hear you, all right?," said Obama, who requested a repeal of DADT in January.
Bills honoring the President's request are currently pending in both houses of Congress.