Lawrence P. Grayson
Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and presidential aspirant, recently asked why the government is willing to make religious accommodations to Muslims detained at Guantanamo Bay’s military prison, but not to Christian county clerks who abide by their faith.
Kim Davis, the subject of his concern, is the clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky. After the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages, she refused to issue marriage licenses for such unions. Her faith holds that same-sex marriages violate God’s law. Even though religious freedom is the first of this nation’s explicitly stated constitutional rights and the Kentucky state constitution, which she swore to uphold, defines marriage as only the union of one man and one woman, Davis was jailed.
While bakers, photographers, caterers, and others in wedding-related industries have been fined for following their consciences and not supporting what they consider sin, Davis is the first to be imprisoned for her Christian beliefs.
Similarly, in May 2014, when a federal court ruling made same-sex marriage legal in Oregon, Marion County Judge Vance Day felt that he could not perform these ceremonies because of his religious tenets. He instructed his staff to refer same-sex couples seeking to marry to other judges. Last fall, he stopped performing weddings altogether. Now he is being investigated by a judicial fitness commission, in part because he acted on his religious beliefs.
The plight of these individuals reveals how the legalization of same-sex marriage and penalties for non-adherence are leading to crises of conscience for Christians. In contrast, significant tolerance has been shown to people of non-Christian faiths. A large and growing number of cases illustrate the differences in treatment.
At Guantanamo Bay, both men and women serve as guards. Several Muslim men, who are highvalue detainees -- one of whom was an al-Qaida leader and others who are reputed to have been involved with the September 11 attacks -- have objected to having female soldiers shackle and escort them when they leave their cells because Islam teaches that a Muslim man can only have physical contact with women who are related to him. A judge initially banned the use of female guards, but earlier this year rescinded the order based on the Pentagon’s gender nondiscrimination policies.
In another recent case, Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder, a Pentecostal military chaplain for over 19 years, may be discharged from the Navy for cause. He has been charged with counseling sailors, in accord with his religious beliefs, against homosexuality and premarital sex. It is claimed that he is “unable to function in the diverse and pluralistic environment” of the modern Navy, even though he has consistently received glowing fitness reports and a recent letter of commendation that referred to him as the “best of the best.”
The U.S. military, where uniformity and standards of dress and grooming have long been considered important to unit cohesion, is changing regulations to accommodate a variety of religious beliefs and practices. Under a recently changed Department of Defense Directive, Muslim service members can request to wear a beard and carry prayer beads; Wiccans can seek to carry “magick” wands; Jews can get permission to wear a yarmulke while in uniform; Sikhs can have long hair; tattoos can be allowed as religious body art; and piercings through the skin or body parts may be permitted.
Even with these changes, a Sikh advocacy group has complained that the accommodations are not guaranteed, but must be requested. Hence, commanders can still deny them the opportunity to wear their religiously-mandated turbans and beards while in uniform.
Last year, a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy posted a biblical verse on a whiteboard outside of his room. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an organization devoted to keeping the military free of religious expression, filed a complaint. Although the whiteboard was for the cadet’s personal use and the quotation did not violate Air Force regulations, authorities quickly had the verse taken down. The militant foundation said that the Bible verse created a hostile atmosphere by elevating one religion, Christianity, over others represented at the academy.
The Defense Department also has begun to grant exceptions to a longstanding policy that bars military troops from wearing uniforms in public parades. In July 2012, it allowed troops to wear their uniforms in the San Diego LGBT Pride parade. About 350 service members marched, some waiving rainbow flags. When the military contingent stopped at an intersection, a Navy senior chief dropped to his knee and proposed to his boyfriend, who accepted. In another gay pride parade, two male service members held hands as they marched.
In April 2014, members of the Missouri National Guard were invited to attend an event at a local Baptist church at which children were to thank them – as well as firefighters, police and other rescuers -- for their dedication and service in protecting this country and its religious freedom. They did not attend, citing a military regulation that prohibits their participation in any religious or ideologically-related event. Yet, a month earlier a military color guard was allowed to march in the Washington, DC gay pride parade.
Selective enforcement of policies and regulations that discriminate against Christian-related events, beliefs and actions is persecution. The nation has made religious accommodation to prisoners who are being tried for killing over 3,000 American civilians, to long-standing military dress policies to allow turbans, beards and magick wands, and to permit uniformed military to march in gay pride parades, but will not accommodate a county clerk, a cadet posting a Bible verse, or a Christian chaplain counseling sailors, each acting in accord with his or her religious beliefs.
Governor Huckabee stated that what has happened to Kim Davis is an example of the current “criminalization of Christianity.” While not yet universal, a trend is developing. Christians are being penalized for living their faith in the public square.
If this movement is to be stopped, the Catholic Church must be in the vanguard with strong and visible opposition. It must begin with its own members, undertaking a major effort to catechize Catholics to the Faith. Large and growing numbers of them do not agree with the Church’s teachings on contraception, cohabitation, same-sex marriage, abortion, and remarriage without an annulment. The bishops and priests must develop and lead a core of Catholics who believe in and live the Faith. There must be a Church Militant in deed, as well as in word.
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Published October 2015