Presiding Bishop part of brief in Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell case

April 5, 2011 – The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, joined with a group of retired military chaplains and other religious denominations to file a friend of the court brief in the Log Cabin Republicans case against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). In late 2010 the trial court ruled DADT was unconstitutional. That judgment is now on appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Presiding Bishop said the Episcopal Church

“has a long history of supporting the inclusion and fair treatment of gay and lesbian persons within the Church and in society. That position extends to the right of such persons to serve this country, openly and with pride, in all of its many offices and positions, including service in our Armed Forces. The Church’s interest in [this case] stems in significant part from the Church’s extensive experience with endorsing male and female members of the Church’s ordained clergy for service as chaplains to members of the Armed Forces in this country and abroad, in peace-time and in conflict, in battle and behind the lines.”

Other parties on the brief include the General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UCC), the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy, nine individual retired military chaplains, the California Council of Churches, and California Faith for Equality.

DADT is a federal law that requires gay and lesbian service members be discharged from the US Armed Forces if they admit they are gay or lesbian. In this situation speech is treated the same as conduct. Also prohibited are service members attempting to marry someone of the same gender, even in states where same-gender marriage is legal. The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Repeal Act became law in late 2010, but it only established a process for the military to repeal DADT at some unspecified, future time. DADT remains in force and recent news reports indicate a separation board was held at Lemoore Naval Air Station as late as last week to determine whether to discharge a Sailor.

The brief argues DADT infringes on the religious freedom of churches that support gay and lesbian equality, such as the UCC, the UUA and MCC. It lists some of this country’s historic, founding churches which today perform same-gender marriages, such as John Winthrop’s First Church in Boston; First Parish Church of Plymouth, founded in the early 1600’s by the Pilgrims, and the Church of the Pilgrimage, which separated from it in 1801; First Church in Salem, founded in 1629; and First Church of Danvers (Congregational), founded in 1672.

It also argues that Chaplains are required by Department of Defense regulations to serve all service members in a “pluralistic environment,” consistent with the chaplains’ own religious doctrines, including service members who do not keep kosher or who remarry after a civil divorce. If a chaplain is unable to help a service member within the bounds of that chaplain’s religious tradition, the chaplain is required to find other persons who can provide appropriate religious support to the service member.

Captain John F. Gundlach, a retired military Navy chaplain is quoted as saying

“As military chaplains, we routinely work with service members whose faith traditions and belief systems are different from ours. The idea that repeal of DADT will infringe on our religious liberty is insulting to all the serving chaplains who professionally minister to and with people of diverse beliefs every day.”

Chaplain Gundlach is currently Minister for Government and Professional Chaplaincies for the UCC, and is the person responsible for licensing UCC chaplains to the US Armed Forces, the Department of Veteran Affairs and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The brief was filed in part as a response to several briefs which argued repeal of DADT would infringe on the religious freedom of conservative and evangelical chaplains.

Full text of the brief is here.

Cathedral member Andrew Brooks is an attorney and a member of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy, which filed the brief including the Presiding Bishop.

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