From Chris Johnson at the Washington Blade we learn that the President has issued a signing statement in an attempt to water-down an anti-gay, anti- “Dont Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, “conscience clause” in the DOD bill:
President Obama signed into law a $633 billion package of major Pentagon budget legislation on Wednesday that includes a “conscience” provision prohibiting troops for being punished for their beliefs as he maintained the language “will not alter” the rights of gay service members. … The provision is a watered-down version of an amendment inserted into the House version of the bill by outgoing Rep. W. Todd Akin (R-Mo.). The House language gave even greater leeway to troops and military chaplains and had more anti-gay overtones.
The provision is creepy, and clearly a Republican swipe at gay service members. The thing we don’t know if whether the provision is meaningful or not. As Chris Johnson notes, the language got watered down in the final bill – which is something our side often tries to do with anti-gay language, water it down to the point of meaningless – but the question remains as to whether the provision will be used to permit bigotry against gay troops. More form Chris Johnson:
A bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers agreed to include the provision, known as Section 533, as part of the conference report for the defense legislation. At the time, most LGBT groups called the language disheartening, but determined it would have no substantive impact on gay service members. However, the American Civil Liberties Union had strong objections to the language, saying it could lead to claims to discriminate and to opt-out of anti-harassment training.
And there’s the rub. The religious right has a long history of trying to pass these “conscience clauses” to permit bigots to opt out of civil rights laws, and in essence force their religion down your throat. They’ve been making the same effort for health care providers, be they pharmacists, ER doctors, or ambulance EMTs. The religious right keeps trying to pass language saying that any health care provider can say “no” if the treatment offends their religious sensibilities. Well, guess what an far-right fire-breathing evangelical, or mormon, EMT is going to do the next time he arrives at the home of a gay married couple. Enter a homosexual den of sin? I don’t think so.
And what about the military? It wasn’t so long ago that evangelicals used the Bible and mormons used the Book of Mormon to “prove” that blacks were inferior. What if a white evangelical or mormon service member says it’s against his religion to serve with someone black? What if they say it’s against their religion to serve with someone gay? Or to bunk with them in a submarine? Where will DOD draw the line, and how will it draw the line, on the militant bigotry of evangelicals and mormons (and some catholics) who simply hate gays with such a passion that they will use any justification they can find to hurt gay people?
Keep in mind that baptists think catholics worship Satan. Does this provision mean that a baptist military chaplain can refuse to work with catholic troops? As for Muslims, is it really that much of a stretch to imagine a Republican chaplain of any faith having issues with Muslim troops? And don’t even get started on Mormons – lots of people consider them nothing more than a cult. What does the conscience clause say about being forced to work with what your God considers a cultist?
And what about a gay chaplain who’s asked to see a service member who’s invoked the conscience clause because of his religious conviction that gays are going to hell. Can the gay chaplain then invoke the conscience clause to get out of helping the bigoted service member?
My suggestion, when Republicans try to pass this kind of garbage, is to push its implementation to the extreme, and watch it crumble. If the Republicans want to give our troops, and chaplains, the excuse to opt-out of this and that “because of their religion,” then opt away, I say. Against them.