After a series of legal reversals this week, the permanent status of the military's “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy on homosexuality remains unresolved. On Oct. 22, Military Archbishop Timothy Broglio explained to CNA why he believes the government must maintain the policy.
U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” was “unconstitutional”-- prompting criticism from those who see the Constitution as silent on the matter, and opposition from the Obama administration which prefers its legislative repeal. While a Justice Department order temporarily kept Phillips' ruling from taking effect, the Pentagon also issued new rules on Oct. 22, limiting military officials' authority to discharge open homosexuals.
Archbishop Broglio explained to CNA what he sees as the basic flaw in Judge Phillips' ruling, which declared that “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” denied homosexual soldiers their rights to freedom of speech and due process. The archbishop explained that while individuals may have a legal right to declare their sexual preferences, they have no comparable “right” to serve in the military at the same time.
Rather, he said, the military reserves to itself the right to deny individuals that privilege-- just as soldiers may forfeit the privilege of military service in many other ways, through their speech and behavior.
“While I presume that Judge Phillips has a better preparation in Constitutional law than I do,” the prelate reflected, “it seems to me that there is no blanket 'right' in the Constitution to serve in the Armed Forces.” He posed a question to critics of the ban on open homosexuality: “Does the military not have the right to choose who will serve?” In virtually all capacities, he observed, officials makes such choices rigorously.
“As the Shepherd for Catholics in the military,” he recounted, “I am continually faced by the fact that priests can be excluded from military service, because of health or weight problems or because of their age. Are those distinctions discriminatory?”
Archbishop Broglio also detailed his concern that Christian chaplains, and those of several other religions, might lose the right to proclaim teachings that oppose homosexual behavior. The danger to religious liberty, he said, “is latent in the agenda being advanced by many” under the guise of mere tolerance. In reality, he said, “there is an agenda to force everyone to accept as normal and positive behavior that is contrary to the moral norms of many religions, including the Catholic Church.”
“While the Armed Forces will never oblige a priest or minister to act in an official capacity contrary to his or her religious beliefs,” he noted, “there is the danger that teaching objective moral precepts or seeking to form youngsters in the faith could be misconstrued as intolerance. Then indeed, freedom of religion would be compromised.”
The archbishop also articulated the crucial difference between constitutionally guaranteed “free exercise of religion,” and the much more limited idea of a mere “freedom of worship.” If the military opts to silence many faiths' opposition to homosexuality, he said, their religious liberty would suffer.
“As Catholics,” he warned, “we must be attentive to the protection of our freedom of religion”-- neither subordinating it to the idea of tolerance, nor trading it for the mere “freedom of worship.” If members of the Church do not defend this freedom in the public square, he said, “we may well lose it.”