An Army chaplain at Fort Bragg in North Carolina is facing possible court martial and prison time for “dereliction of duty.”
Chaplain Scott Squires was allegedly unwilling to conduct a marriage retreat that included same-sex couples because of his personal religious beliefs, according to Todd Starnes.
Squires was officially accused of discrimination after an Army investigator under the command of Major General Kurt Sonntag recommended that he be found guilty of “dereliction of duty” because he took three business days to reschedule the “Strong Bonds” marriage retreat.
“I simply did what I’m required to do under Army regulations and my endorser’s rules,” Squires said. “I am shocked that I would even be investigated, let alone threatened with punishment, for following the rules.”
The decorated chaplain is endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board whose policy expressly prohibits chaplains from conducting “Strong Bonds” events for same-sex couples.
“Endorsed chaplains will not conduct or attend a wedding ceremony for any same-sex couple, bless such a union or perform counseling in support of such a union…nor offer any kind of relationship training or retreat, on or off a military installation,” the policy states.
According to Starnes:
When Squires realized he could not participate in the “Strong Bonds” event, he rescheduled the conference to accommodate a lesbian couple with a chaplain who could oversee the retreat. However, the same-sex couple chose not to attend.
Had Squires participated in the marriage retreat he would have risked losing his endorsement by the Southern Baptists. Likewise, the Army requires its chaplains to adhere to their endorsers’ rules and religious tenets.
While Squires is protected by the “shield of the 1st Amendment from being compelled to act in violation of his religious rules and beliefs,” according to the Army investigator, there are limits to that protection.
“The ‘shield’ that is afforded to CH Squires does not permit CH Squires, or any Soldier, to use the ‘shield’ as a ‘sword’ to cut off the rights of another,” the investigator claimed, noting that a soldier’s sexual orientation is a protected status.
But the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act shows the investigator is actually the one in violation.
“No member of the Armed Forces may require a chaplain to perform any rite, ritual or ceremony that is contrary to the conscience, moral principles or religious beliefs of the chaplain,” that policy states.
First Liberty Institute is representing Squires in the case as well as Chaplain Assistant Kacie Griffin, who didn’t sign up the same-sex couple for the retreat immediately.
“The United States Army, acting under the command of Major General Sonntag, is threatening to punish one of its chaplains because he followed the rules,” First Liberty Institute’s Mike Berry told Starnes. “The Army, or Congress, must hold Major General Sonntag accountable for allowing this aggressive anti-religious hostility against its military chaplains to occur under his command.”
Federal law and Army policy support the right of chaplains to adhere to the tenets of their faith, despite what Squires and Griffin are facing.
“Major General Sonntag must immediately reject this investigation, if any chaplain under his command is to have the confidence that he or she will be protected when following military policy,” Berry said. “No chaplain should face the specter of a court martial and military prison for following the rules of their faith and the Army.”
“There is a substantial likelihood that (the investigator) manifests an impermissible hostility towards religion – conservative Christianity in particular, perhaps – that has no place in the United States Army,” Berry added.
“When an Army EO policy is in apparent conflict with rights that are enshrined in our Constitution, federal law, and DOD policy, the Army EO policy must yield to those superior legal authorities,” Berry wrote in First Liberty’s response.
The American Family Association is calling for emails to be sent to to the Pentagon, urging Secretary Esper to “stop this violation of Chaplain Squires’ religious rights dead in its tracks.” A copy of the email will also be sent to Major General Kurt Sonntag via the Public Affairs Office at Fort Bragg.
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