The House Armed Services Committee passed an amendment April 27 to ensure faith-based ministries can continue to serve America’s men and women in uniform.
“We need to level the playing field; we have a First Amendment and it says ‘the free exercise thereof,”‘ said Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla., who introduced the amendment during an annual defense bill mark-up. “This rule affirms prior policy that faith-based organizations are no less eligible than secular organizations to deliver federally funded services.”
Nearly two years ago, President Barack Obama issued an executive order barring federal contractors from considering sexuality and gender identity when making hiring decisions. The president and other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocates hailed it as a way to eradicate discrimination in the workplace, but the action had far-reaching implications that are still unfolding for faith groups working with federal agencies.
Once fully implemented, federally contracted groups cannot proceed unless they promise not to discriminate against prospective LGBT employees during their private hiring processes. For Christian ministries, hiring homosexual or transgender staff could compromise their work and biblical values – forcing them to either squelch their religious convictions or lose their federal contracts.
The amendment specifically pertains to contractors for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). The DOD hires outside contractors to provide programs for its service members and their families beyond what military chaplains can offer. Depending on the location, contractors provide family counseling, youth outreach, substance abuse assistance, and even worship services.
“The military is out there every day protecting our religious liberty; it only makes sense that we serve their faith needs while they serve us,” said Ron Crews, executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. “This amendment is an important step to preserve the programs they rely on.”
Before joining the Chaplain Alliance, Crews served 28 years as an Army chaplain. He told me chaplains do a lot of work for the military and their families, but they also depend on contracted groups to provide ministry in other areas.
The amendment passed out of committee 33 to 29, largely along party lines, and will now go to the full House for consideration in the coming weeks. It likely will face strong opposition.
When Russell introduced the amendment, several members from across the aisle tried to strike it down.
The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., called the amendment a move to allow any organization to discriminate against homosexuals.
And shortly after it passed out of the committee, the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group echoed Smith’s concerns.
“Russell’s harmful amendment would strip away existing protections for LGBT workers,” said David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
In the HRC’s full statement, it claimed the amendment will allow sweeping, taxpayer-funded discrimination in an attempt to promote anti-LGBT, religious-based discrimination at the DOD.
Russell dismisses the outcry and said opponents want to spin the language to fit their narrative: “They want to make the case that this is for any government contract. That is a false premise. This bill is about religious freedom, and clarifying ambiguous language.”
Crews praised Russell for making sure the defense bill included the amendment.
“Ultimately, this is about our men and women who wear the uniform and serving their religious needs,” he said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Evan Wilt is a reporter for WORLD Digital.)