Falls Church priest says repeal DADT

The Rev. Michael Pipkin, former military chaplain and current priest-in-charge at Falls Church Episcopal on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. He takes to task “some military chaplains who say that a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” would somehow infringe upon their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.” –

It seems to me that we have been approaching this particular moral choice for some time, as chaplains from traditionally conservative and evangelical denominations have raised outcry after outcry over issues such as praying in Jesus’ name, promotions of their fellow chaplains to higher ranks, and the right to evangelize. In each instance, these chaplains have sounded the same battle cry, pointing to the First Amendment, which they read as protecting of their right to be who they are. Indeed it does.

But what these chaplains fail to recognize is that the First Amendment, with respect to religious freedom, has two clauses: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” As a former Navy chaplain I remember well the admonitions of our instructors at Chaplain School: As chaplains it was to be our sworn duty to provide religious ministry to those of our own faith, to facilitate for the religious needs of others, to care for all in our charge, and to advise our commanding officers, ensuring the free exercise of religion. We were to walk a fine line between any hint of establishment and the assurance of free exercise. In providing for our own, we were sworn not to proselytize, and we were counseled and trained extensively on the pluralistic foundations of our work.

Even in Chaplain School there were debates between chaplain candidates and instructors over what some candidates thought were unfair policies. Surely they must be allowed to be who they were! And yes, within limits, they were assured that they could preach, teach, and worship according to their faith tradition, but when it came to the religious needs of others they were to defer — a necessary accommodation that ensured the continued presence of chaplains for the free exercise of religion at the risk of violating the establishment clause. A fine line indeed, and a nuance that many could not grasp.

Read it all in ENS.

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