President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act on last week with some reservations over a religious freedom for chaplains provision contained within the bill, claiming they were both “unnecessary and ill-advised.”
During the months that the NDAA was being debated in Congress, the president threatened a veto if a provision prohibiting the closing of Guantanamo Bay detention center wasn’t removed. It wasn’t. He signed it anyway.
However, he expressed his greatest dissatisfaction over a newly-included Section 533 of the act, added out of fear that the military may require chaplains to perform same-sex marriages or approve homosexual lifestyles now that “don’t ask, don’t tell” has been repealed.
Section 533 protects the rights of conscience of military chaplains and reads in pertinent part:
SEC. 533. PROTECTION OF RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE OF MEMBERS OF THE ARMED FORCES AND CHAPLAINS OF SUCH MEMBERS
* * *
(2)(b) PROTECTION OF CHAPLAIN DECISIONS RELATING TO CONSCIENCE , MORAL PRINCIPLES , OR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS .
No memberof the Armed Forces may—
(1) require a chaplain to perform any rite, ritual, or ceremony
that is contrary to the conscience, moral principles, or
religious beliefs of the chaplain; or
(2) discriminate or take any adverse personnel action
against a chaplain, including denial of promotion, schooling,
training, or assignment, on the basis of the refusal by the
chaplain to comply with a requirement prohibited by paragraph
The president signed the bill but also issued a written statement criticizing the “rights of conscience” provision within it.
“The military already appropriately protects the freedom of conscience of chaplains and service members,” Obama wrote, adding that his administration would make sure that implementing the provisions does not lead to any “discriminatory actions.”
“My administration remains fully committed to continuing the successful implementation of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and to protecting the rights of gay and lesbian service members; Section 533 will not alter that,” he said.
On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement criticizing the section 533 language, calling it “too broad,” and “cautioned that it could lead to claims of a right to discriminate.”
The entire act may be read here.
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