For all of its appeals to individual freedom, equality, and “justice for all”, the United States has often failed to serve as a model for the equality and justice it espouses, allowing other Western democracies to lead the way and demonstrate through active reform the very principles to which the U.S. only pays lip service. The slow-dying, discriminatory policies which linger on may not just affect minorities, but also members of majority groups, even ordained ministers at The Universal Life Church Monastery.

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Slavery and anti-sodomy legislation serve as two illuminating examples how the United States has traditionally fallen behind the rest of the democratic world. While Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807 and slavery throughout the empire in 1833, and while France (where slavery was never officially instituted) abolished the trade in its last outpost of Guadeloupe in 1848, it was not until 1865 that the U.S. finally followed suit with the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution; and while France repealed its sodomy law as early as 1791, Britain, Canada, and East and West Germany in the 1960s, and Australia in 1997, it was not until 2003 that the U.S. Supreme Court granted adult same-sex couples the right to engage in consensual sex in the privacy of their own homes. Even the Supreme Court of China—a country long criticized for its human rights violations—ruled in 1957 that consensual adult sex of any form was not a crime.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the United States stalwartly remains one of only a handful out of the twenty-eight NATO nations which bar gays, lesbians, and bisexuals serving openly in the military. At a recent U.S. Senate Defense Committee hearing, Defense Secretary Roberts Gates and Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen recommended the repeal of the United States’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which bans openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals from military service, arguing that the policy, not sexual minorities, is what undermines military cohesion and promotes dishonesty in the service. Former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman and former secretary of state Colin Powell has echoed this recommendation, moving away from his original opinion in 1993, when he supported Bill Clinton’s institution of the policy, that it was a “healthy compromise”.

By its very terms, DADT also requires the penalization of servicemembers from inquiring about the homosexuality or bisexuality of their peers; consequently, military chaplains are proscribed from discussing these matters with those they counsel (let alone performing same-sex weddings). But does this proscription impinge upon religious freedoms as granted by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution? A chaplain who feels the nagging responsibility to discuss the matter with a peer—whether in condemnation or affirmation—might argue that the issue of sexual orientation is a central concern of his or her church, and, that an official opinion on the matter is codified in the church’s ecclesiastical proclamation of canon law, and that discussion of the church’s stance on the sexual minority status of its members is a spiritual practice. To bar military personnel who belong to such a church from discussing the sexual orientation of other personnel would therefore constitute an infringement on the free exercise of religion.

At Universal Life Church Monastery, we are always seeking to open up the issues we cover to discussion among our members. What is your stance on the relationship between DADT and the free exercise of religion, and the apparent contradiction it entails? Are you, or is someone you know, an ordained ULCM minister who has served in the armed forces and who has either been penalized for discussing the homosexuality of fellow servicemembers or experienced unreasonable pressure to remain silent on the matter for fear of the consequences? Give us your thoughts.

Sources:
CNN
The Huffington Post
Wikipedia: Abolition of Slavery Timeline
Wikipedia: Sodomy Law

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