I assume since your name contains Religious Freedom that you represent all aspects of the religious spectrum. What is your position on Christian members being solicited to participate in celebrations they are idealistically opposed to?
For example: DoD Pride Month celebrations. I was sent the attached email from an official source. What recourse do you suggest?
(Name, rank, branch withheld)
People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. -George Orwell (attributed)
I am interested in the reasoning of USAF member X who claims to engage an argument of “religious objection,” that is, as he says “My objection is to being solicited to support celebrations that I have a religious objection to”. In order to clarify the matter and perhaps reduce the “heat” of this exchange let’s engage an analogy.
Let us suppose that I, as a Christian, held a strong objection to the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Certainly, there is a long history of these specific moral constructions particularly within conservative, and pietistic Christian communities; let us say, that it was my strongly held Christian religious belief that alcohol consumption was morally evil and furthermore that such consumption damaged the relational and spiritual life of individuals, in addition, the consumption of alcohol weakened the cohesion of the armed services and therefore injured our national defense. I was religiously opposed to the consumption of alcohol and religiously offended by the use of alcohol in military celebrations and ceremonies.
Now, are my religious “rights” trampled when my Wing Commander sends out invitations to the Wing Dining In? After all, this event serves alcoholic beverages, and begins with a whole series of “toasts” which utilize alcohol as a symbolic and celebratory drink. While, as an attendee I needn’t imbibe alcohol to participate in the Dining In, others around me will be drinking alcohol and my presence would, at the least, indicate my toleration of their consumption of alcohol. In addition, this event is to be held at the base Officers Club, where there is a bar serving alcoholic beverages and where alcoholic drinking is presented as a part of social engagement. I have a strongly held religious belief that the consumption of alcohol is evil, yet my Wing Commander is sending out an invitation to attend this official event and that invitation is sent via official command channels. I am offended that she supports this event where alcohol will be consumed and whether or not I intend to attend, it is offensive to me that she, as my Wing Commander, would send me an official invitation.
So, here is my answer. No. Your strongly held religious belief that alcohol consumption is immoral is NOT trampled by an official invitation to attend the Wing Dining In. Furthermore, the Wing Commander is NOT promoting a religious perspective when she invites you to the Wing Dining In. You may have attached religious significance to the consumption of alcohol but that does not make the consumption of alcohol in the setting of a Dining In a religious event.
Just so, the fact that you attach religious significance to the many ways in which people express their sexuality and love for one another does not make a military celebration of LGBT pride and history a religious event. And, an official invitation to observe a celebration of LGBT pride does not promote a particular religious perspective. What it does, I believe, is acknowledge and promote the pride and history of LGBT persons within both a military and civilian context.
Instrumentalizing your religious beliefs in order to claim that an official invitation to a secular event causes you religious offence seems to stretch (pardon the phrase) credulity. The Wing Public Affairs officer is not abusing her/his authority by issuing this invitation because this is NOT an invitation to a sectarian religious event; it is an invitation to an official, military, secular event. You may choose not to attend, you may be disappointed that the military and civilian LGBT community receives such official acknowledgement, and you may continue to believe that the existence of LGBT persons in some way contravenes your “Christian” perspective, but unfortunately your argument that your religious rights are being trampled by your receipt of an official invitation to voluntarily participate in a LGBT pride celebration simply does not hold.
I hope this adds some critical clarity, strengthens your military professionalism and contributes to your practice of the Christian faith.
M. S. I. Morton, M.Div., J.D., Ph.D.
MRFF Advisory Board Member