March 25, 2020
The Chaplain’s Religious Enrichment Development Operation (CREDO) operates with the mission “To strengthen spiritual well-being and individual resilience through workshops and retreats for service members, civilians, and families.” Established CREDO programs include Marriage Enrichment Retreats aimed at assisting married couples promote “relational and spiritual growth”. The Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS) website page describes CREDO operations and programs:
All programs and events are available to service members free of charge. All military married couples with a legally valid marriage are eligible to participate in CREDO marriage and family programs. CREDO directors shall ensure that all participants have a legally valid marriage as a prerequisite for registration for these programs.
An active duty sailor was recently referred by an allied organization to MRFF for assistance regarding significant concerns of his (along with 25 additional active duty and DoD clients) regarding the registration forms for the CREDO Marriage Enrichment Retreats which contained a legal disclaimer that stated “the Chaplain’s belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, therefore same-sex couples should not attend the retreat out of respect for the Chaplain’s religious and moral beliefs”. Although there is statement on the form beginning “It is the Department of Defense’s policy to treat all married military couples equally”, the obvious and illegal hypocrisy stems from the discriminatory statement that “The chaplain leading this retreat views marriage as being between a man and woman.” MRFF’s legal and research staff swiftly located the applicable established military regulation within the relevant Equal Opportunity Program Manual pertaining to the equitable provision of services:
Includes sexual orientation as a basis for unlawful discrimination, includes gender identity as a form of sex discrimination, and prohibits harassment based on race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity), national origin, and sexual orientation.
On behalf of MRFF’s 26 clients who expressed concerns with the CREDO Marriage Retreats Disclaimer, Mikey immediately contacted their chain of command regarding this clearly unconstitutionally discriminatory disclaimer. Within 48 hours of being contacted, MRFF received the following emailed response on behalf of the Commander, Naval Installations Command (CNIC):
Thank you for reaching out to CNIC concerning the Chaplains Religious Enrichment Operation (CREDO) program registration forms. I am responding on behalf of VADM Jackson.
“CNIC and Marine Corps Installation Command (MCICOM) provide CREDO retreats according to guidelines established by the Navy Chief of Chaplains, whose office is responsible for the program and related policy. Earlier this month, CNIC requested a legal review of the retreat registration forms specific to the language defining marriage between two parties. Based upon that review, the registration form cited by the concerned service member in the letter below is no longer in use by CNIC. CNIC is committed to making available important CREDO services to all military personnel and their families regardless of sexual orientation. [emphasis added]
“Please also note that in response to the spread of COVID-19, CNIC has suspended all CREDO programs until after 15 May.
“We appreciate you bringing this concern to our attention and allowing us to take immediate action to address. If you have further concerns regarding the CREDO program, we recommend contacting the office of the Navy Chief of Chaplains.
Richard A. Bonnette
CAPT, CHC, USN
The assistance provided by MRFF and rapid resolution of this issues was detailed in an extremely well-articulated email from one of MRFF’s 26 clients:
I am an active duty Sailor from Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Jacksonville, FL who recently contacted your office and requested advocacy for an injustice that was suffered by legally married, same-sex military couples, by the hand of the US Navy Chaplain Corps in their Chaplain’s Religious Enrichment Development Operation (CREDO) program. I was concerned that registration forms for CREDO Marriage Enrichment Retreats contained a legal disclaimer that stated the Chaplain’s belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, therefore same-sex couples should not attend the retreat out of respect for the Chaplain’s religious and moral beliefs.
I am a straight, devout Christian from a denomination that is under-represented in the Chaplain Corps, and I also have my own moral beliefs. However, I took a public oath to defend the Constitution of The United States and found it sickening that people who took the same oath and specifically serve in the military to defend our First Amendment guarantee of “Free Exercise Religion,” violate that right every day. They violate their oath by proselytizing their own Fundamental Christian teachings and deny services that service members and their spouses are entitled to because they have unlawfully judged same-sex couples to be unworthy in direct violation of Equal Opportunity Laws.
As a (military rank level withheld), I do not have many resources available to me to address my concerns. I have tried the recommended way of expressing my concerns through my chain of command, but since I was not the one the offense actually happened to, my concerns fell on deaf ears. I learned that there are others too who have been raising this concern for years, with no action taken. Therefore, I sought outside help, but I was scared of the revenge, reprisal, and repercussions that would come my way if my identity was revealed. As a result, I was referred to you and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF).
From the moment you were notified of my inquiry, you reached out to me and I was confident I found a person and an organization that was ready to help and will have this manner resolved once and for all. Most importantly, I felt safe and confident I can do my part to aid this effort without being exposed. As a result, I was inspired to research the policies relevant to this issue and was even more concerned when I discovered how these chaplains and their policies were going unchecked for so long.
You took my concerns to the highest authorities, and after just a day we were informed by Commander, Naval Installations Command that this injustice is being addressed, and the discriminatory statement on CREDO registration forms is removed effective immediately.
I am convinced if I did not seek your help and went through the normal channels, it would take months, if not years for the right people to recognize the discrimination still experienced by same-sex couples in the military. I am truly grateful for your diligent efforts to address this matter and your swift action that resulted in immediate reform.
I want to say that every service member regardless of faith should recognize they have dedicated advocates in MRFF. Your organization is truly dedicated to the men and women who wear the uniform. The men and women who serve today have many different religious and moral beliefs, which is not different from the generations that served before us. However, the difference is we tolerate all others as well, and believe every man and woman who desires to serve their country should be able to do so without facing discrimination because of race, color, creed, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Our generation is not yet in the ranks to inspire the social reform that is necessary in the military. However, we have a trusted ally in MRFF, and if more of us seek your help we can make it happen faster than we ever imagined.
I want to close by letting you know, it may not seem like a big deal to some people to remove a statement from a registration form. However, for us, it is an essential victory because I believe it signifies the beginning of an end of an era. There are some Chaplains that serve that need to realize their time to pervert the First Amendment is over. Soon, they will not be able to claim “Free Practice of Religion” to protect their proselytizing, or discrimination. A generation of Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Soldiers, and Coast Guardsmen are rising that will not be forced to submit to extreme Christian fundamental beliefs. We thank them for their service, but it is time they seriously discern returning to civilian ministry. Clergy who believe they can falsely claim “free practice of religion” to publically preach hate have no place in any Chaplain Corps caring for a pluralistic Armed Forces of the United States.
A Grateful Christian Sailor (name, rank, position title, assigned military organization all withheld)
MRFF commends the sailors and other DoD personnel at Naval Air Station Jacksonville who took a stand for the equal rights of ALL service members, and to Chaplain Bonnette for doing the right thing!