Lawmakers Say Army May Have Violated Law by Targeting Baptist Chaplain
The U.S. Army may have violated the First Amendment rights of a decorated chaplain who is facing discipline for not conducting a marriage retreat that included a same-sex couple, according to a letter written by a group of Republican lawmakers.
A military investigation at Fort Bragg determined Chaplain Scott Squires should be disciplined for his failure to include a lesbian couple in the Strong Bonds Marriage Retreat. It determined he had discriminated against a soldier based on her sexual orientation.
Chaplain Squires is endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board. The Southern Baptists forbid its chaplains from facilitating marriage retreats that include same-sex couples.
Had Chaplain 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.
Instead, he found another chaplain who was able to lead a marriage retreat that included same-sex couples.
Reps. Doug Collins, Richard Hudson, Jody Hice, Vicky Hartzler and Doug Lamborn wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Army expressing their concerns about the impact of what they called a “meritless investigation” would have on the chaplain’s impeccable military career.
“It’s a real travesty,” Rep. Hudson (R-NC) said on the “Todd Starnes Radio Show.” “Chaplain Squires followed Army regulations and he followed federal law and he followed the guidelines of his endorsing agency.”
The lawmakers said the Army’s handling of the incident appears “to be in contradiction to federal law.”
According to Section 533(b) of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, “No member of 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 (1).”
“He did everything right and now he’s being punished,” Hudson said. “We made it very clear in the law you can’t punish a chaplain for following their conscience, their beliefs.”
The lawmakers are calling on Army Secretary Mark Esper to ensure a swift resolution to the chaplain’s case — along with guarantees that chaplains will be protected under the law.
“It has larger implications for thousands of chaplains across the military who have their basic freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment threatened,” Hudson said on my nationally syndicated radio program.
First Liberty Institute, one of the nation’s most prestigious religious liberty law firms, is representing Squires.
“Chaplain Squires should not have his career ruined for following the rules of both his faith and the Army,” First Liberty Institute attorney Mike Berry said on the "Todd Starnes Radio Show.“
Hudson said he believes the Army made a huge mistake that must be rectified.
"I’m going to stand with Chaplain Squires,” he said. “And we are going to hold people accountable to the law.”