Tony Perkins recently did a blog on “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He makes an interesting case against the proposal to change the law so that homosexuals can serve openly in the military. What is most interesting is that he bases his argument on the view that this change would be a violation of religious freedom.
On the face of it, the change would not seem to violate religious freedom. After all, allowing homosexuals to serve openly does not seem to restrict or violate religious freedom. No one would be required to adopt a specific faith nor would any faith be banned or limited by such a legal change. As such, it is hardly surprising that Perkins does not base his argument on this. What he does, rather, is claim that “all 1.4 million members of the U.S. military will be subject to sensitivity training intended to indoctrinate them into the myths of the homosexual movement: that people are born “gay” and cannot change and that homosexual conduct does no harm to the individual or to society.”
As he sees it, the reason why this violates religious liberty is that people who hold religious views that run contrary to this view “will be denied promotion, will be forced out of the service altogether, or will simply choose not to reenlist. Other citizens will choose not to join the military in the first place. The numbers lost will dwarf the numbers gained by opening the ranks to practicing homosexuals.”
One obvious criticism of his view is that he is resting his case rather heavily on speculation. First, he speculates that if the ban on homosexuals is lifted, then sensitivity training will be mandatory. Second, he speculates that the training will have a specific content regarding the nature of homosexuality and the effect of homosexuals. Third, he speculates that the people who have contrary views of homosexuality will be, in effect, persecuted for their views. Interestingly, his speculation is that they will be treated how exposed homosexuals are treated now (forced out of the service). Fourth, he speculates that the negative impact of this proposal will outweigh the positive impact on enlistment.
While speculation is a critical part of assessing what might be, such speculation needs to be adequately supported. While these things could come to pass, it is easy enough to present an even more plausible scenario: the ban is lifted and military personal are required to attend anti-discriminatory training that teaches them that they cannot discriminate professionally based on sexual orientation anymore than they can based on religion, gender or skin color. Personal who act in a discriminatory way against homosexuals will get in trouble-just as those who discriminate on the basis of gender, race, or religion will get in trouble. Some people who cannot tolerate this will leave or not enlist. However, the impact will be minor and offset by the enrollment of homosexuals and people who are more tolerant.
The above is, of course, speculation-but it seems to be as plausible a tale as Perkins. As such, more evidence is needed before accepting that this change will have the consequences he predicts (or that I presented in my tale).
Also, a rather stock reply to his argument is to use an analogy to race or gender. When minorities and women were legally allowed to serve, all sorts of dire predictions were made. Interestingly enough, these did not come to pass. As such, it is tempting to categorize Perkins’ view as being analogous to views held by racists or sexists. I am not, of course, claiming that Perkins is either of these-just that his position and arguments seem to mirror those views in some important ways.
Perkins goes on to claim that the military is already being “infected” with a pro-gay political correctness. As evidence, he points to one incident: after he made it clear he opposed the change in the law he was dis-invited to a prayer event. While this can be seen as an example of political correctness, one example hardly constitutes a strong argument by example. It is on par with saying that all soldiers are gay based on knowing one gay soldier.
Perkins then leaps down the slippery slope with a rhetorical question: “If I was blacklisted merely for supporting existing law, what will happen to those who oppose the new, politically correct law?” He considers a range of possible dire consequences.
First, he wonders if military ministers will be forced to avoid the biblical passages that refer to homosexual behavior as sinful. My guess is that there will be no more special restrictions on this then there are against using biblical passages that endorse slavery or stoning disobedient children.
Second, he wonders what will happen if a homosexual goes to a military chaplain for relationship counseling. Will the chaplain be free to recommend treatment to “fix” the soldier’s homosexuality? Will the chaplain be forced to provide counseling? There are legitimate concerns here. Of course, chaplains have to face similar challenges. For example, what if a Catholic chaplain is approached by a soldier who engaged in premarital sex while using birth control? What if a chaplain who is opposed to the “mixing of races” is approached by a white soldier who is dating a black person?
In any case, chaplains should be able to handle such situations. If a chaplain thinks that he cannot, he always has the option of suggesting that the soldier seek counseling from someone else. I suspect that the military does not force chaplains to endorse the values of every soldier who seeks counseling nor, do I suspect, does it forbid them from referring a soldier to someone better able to handle the matter.
Third, he notes that chaplains need to be sponsored by a specific religious group. Some religious groups do not tolerate homosexuals. As such, he expresses the fear that the chaplain corps will be overrun by ” Unitarian ministers and homosexual Episcopal priests” while running short of chaplains from denominations that are not tolerant of homosexuality, such as Roman Catholics and Baptists. Presumably this would be a problem because soldiers of these faiths would have a harder time finding an appropriate chaplain.
Of course, if his prediction that people who are against homosexuality would leave or not enlist is correct, then there should be enough chaplains for the few that decided to remain or enlist. As far as a more serious reply goes, it seems unlikely that chaplains would be forced to endorse homosexuality. However, they would be expected to conform to anti-discriminatory polices. This is nothing new-a chaplain whose religious beliefs led him to hold that woman are inferior would not be legally permitted to discriminate against women. There seems to be nothing wrong with expecting professionals to practice non-discrimination.
Perkins’ final assertion is that removing the ban “would mean placing sexual libertinism – a destructive left-wing social dogma found nowhere in the Constitution – above religious liberty, our nation’s first freedom.” While this is a rather nice piece of hyperbole mixed with a bit of straw man, it lacks merit.
First, not discriminating against homosexuals is rather different from sexual libertinism.
Second, removing the ban does not itself constitute an infringement of religious liberty. After all, soldiers (including chaplains) will not be required to become homosexuals, renounce their religious views or adopt a mandatory religion. They will, however, be expected not to discriminate. This does not seem to infringe on religious liberty anymore than, for example, not allowing Muslim soldiers to insist that all women in their presence be forced to cover themselves. Or, to use another example, it does not infringe religious liberty anymore than not allowing Jewish soldiers to demand that no pork be served to anyone in the military. In short, being denied the right to impose one’s views on others is not a denial of religious freedom.
Now, if a law is crafted that requires soldiers and chaplains to believe specific religious doctrines, then that would be a different matter and well worthy of criticism.
Overall, Perkins makes an interesting try at arguing that on the basis of freedom some people should be denied freedom. This reminds me, just a bit, of arguments about how attempts to get rid of slavery imposed on the liberty of slave owners.