Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The danger (to chaplains) of "normalizing homosexuality" in the military

A group of retired military chaplains has written a letter to President Obama objecting to the repeal of the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy. (HT: Friedman)  I support the repeal, but I can see how reasonable people can disagree about this issue on the merits.  I have a harder time seeing the persuasive power of the chaplains' argument, which is that the repeal will effectively force chaplains to alter their ministries.  It seems a bit of a stretch to argue that we should keep kicking out openly gay members of the military in order to avoid making chaplains feel bad about preaching that homosexuality is immoral.  If there is a legitimate concern that chaplains will be disciplined or suffer other negative employment consequences for preaching about homosexuality, or for refusing to minister to same-sex couples, then let's argue about the need for a conscience clause.  Rarely does the "let's continue mandating government discrimination in order to avoid making my ministry more awkward and difficult" argument prove effective.  Am I being too harsh in my evaluation?

UPDATE: As a friend points out, not a single Roman Catholic chaplain signed the letter.  Significant?


Vischer, Rob | Permalink

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Your criticism seems apt; and also seemed apt to the Denver school dust-up. You write: "Rarely does the 'let's continue mandating government discrimination in order to avoid making my ministry more awkward and difficult' argument prove effective." How effective is the following argument: "let's exclude children of gay parents from Catholic schools in order to avoid making my ministry (that homosexual conduct is disordered) more awkward and difficult." Note, I say nothing here about the rightness or wrongness of the ministry's teaching; it's the 'this person's presence makes my ministry more difficult' part that I, like you, find unpersuasive.

Posted by: DFoley | Apr 29, 2010 11:15:13 AM

Good point. I will say, though, that in the Catholic school context, the entire institution is part of the ministry at issue, so if the ministry is compromised, there is a stronger argument for discrimination than in the military, which is obviously not designed to embody the teachings of the chaplains' ministry. It seems odd to suggest that the membership policies of the military should be designed with the purpose of making the chaplains' ministry easier.

Posted by: rob vischer | Apr 29, 2010 11:22:45 AM

How about something like "Chaplains, by part of their preaching, will directly undermine the morale of homosexual soldiers"? Then the options appear to all be discriminatory: restrict the subjects on which the chaplains may preach, separate homosexuals from those services, remove one or both groups from the military.

Do we go after the merits of my fictional quotation, do we find an unlisted and superior option, or do we have to choose one of the ones I listed?

Just an off-the-cuff quick thought about reversing why the minister feels constrained or "bad" as you say it.

Posted by: A Catholic School Teacher | Apr 29, 2010 12:04:05 PM

Might i be so bold to ask why a chaplain needs to preach against homosexuality or same gender marriage?
The military community is besieged by government neglect of veterans, problems of spousal & child abuse, extensions of deployment, suicides, poverty, etc. etc. etc. Perhaps when those problems are dealt with then homosexuality can become the subject of sermons.

Posted by: Mike Totten-Reid | Apr 29, 2010 9:20:52 PM

Has anyone at all thought of the soldier who is supposed to be ministered to?

S/He is, after all, the reason the chaplain is there and s/he does have his/her own right to religious freedom.

Posted by: Joseph R Yungk | May 22, 2011 2:56:14 PM