COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – President Obama told the graduating class of U.S. Air Force Academy cadets May 23 that they are starting their service at a time when the burden of national security no longer falls so heavily on the military’s shoulders.
Obama pledged to keep the military fast, flexible, versatile and superior. But what was left unsaid by the president was the lack of peace and harmony between the White House and Congress regarding how to fund the military going forward.
The House of Representatives approved its plan for the Pentagon’s budget for next year. But House lawmakers, including 77 Democrats, passed the $642 billion bill despite a veto threat from Obama. The House plan adds $8 billion more for the military next year than what the president has called for.
Social issues also are at play.
For example, an approved amendment to the House defense bill explicitly prevents same-sex marriage services from taking place on U.S. military bases.
“The administration’s recent actions have created uncertainty regarding ceremonies permitted on military installations,” said Rep. Steven Palazzo, R.-Miss., one of the amendment’s sponsors. “This amendment is intended to clear up any doubt and reinforce the [Defense of Marriage Act’s] authority as it applies to those installations.”
Rep. Todd Akin, R.-Mo., successfully pushed through a second amendment to protect the religious liberty of all military service members, particularly military chaplains. Akin’s amendment creating a statutory conscience protection clause for service members came at the request of military chaplain organizations that have reported an increase in censorship and discipline directed at soldiers who have moral or religious concerns about same-sex marriage.
“This liberal agenda has infiltrated our military,” Akins said. “Moral or religious concerns about same-sex marriage or the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ have become potentially career-ending.”
In a recent letter sent to Rep. Howard P. McKeon, R.-Calif., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, a group of 19 retired military officers and pastors representing the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty highlighted some of these recent abuses including:
– A senior chaplain on a major stateside military base lost his authority of the chapel under his charge for insisting that, in accordance with federal law, the chapel wouldn’t be used to celebrate unions between same-sex couples.
– Another chaplain was threatened with early retirement and reassigned to a position with more supervision for forwarding an email reflecting on the former “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy regarding gays in the military.
“Until Congress acts decisively, efforts to silence the voices of our military chaplains of all faiths and backgrounds will likely continue well into the future,” states the letter from the alliance, which represents more than 2,000 military chaplains.
The Obama administration issued a statement saying it “strongly objects” to these amendments protecting chapels and the conscience of chaplains and other service members. The administration stated those provisions “adopt unnecessary and ill-advised policies that would inhibit the ability of same-sex couples to marry or enter a recognized relationship.”
The administration added the religious and moral beliefs protected by the amendments are overbroad and would be “potentially harmful to good order and discipline.” Denying service members access to facilities such as chapels on the basis of sexual orientation would, according to the administration, be “troublesome.”
Rep. Palazzo, while promoting his amendment protecting chapels from hosting same-sex union ceremonies during committee debates, argued that the Defense Department facilities are federal property, so they already fall under the jurisdiction of DOMA.
“The Defense of Marriage Act was clear in defining marriage for purposes of the federal government,” Palazzo said. “This amendment does nothing else but clarify for the Department of Defense that this standard should be upheld on military bases.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Edward Lee Pitts writes for World News Service, where this story first appeared.)