A House Republican from Louisiana is proposing a measure to expand the “conscience provision” in defense law in a way that would make it easier for service members to harass their gay comrades, according to a copy of his amendment provided by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The amendment, proposed by Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), puts the burden on the Pentagon to prove that the expression of religious beliefs would be an “actual harm” to good order and discipline in refusing to make an accommodation.
Further, the measure requires the Pentagon to implement regulations within 120 days after the defense secretary consults with “official military faith-group representatives who endorse military chaplains.”
Fleming introduced the amendment before the House Armed Services Committee as a proposed change to the fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill. The markup of that bill started at 10 a.m. on Wednesday and is expected to conclude late in the evening.
Ian Thompson, legislative representative of the ACLU, said the language proposed by the three-term House Republican would have a detrimental impact on a commanding officer’s ability to protect gay service members from harassment.
“It would tie the hands of commanders, prohibiting them from responsibly addressing threats to unit cohesion that an accommodation might create,” Thompson said.
The amendment would expand an existing “conscience provision” already in the law that President Obama signed under Section 533 as part of the Fiscal Year 2013 Defense Authorization Act. At the time of the signing, Obama called it “unnecessary” and said he was signing the defense package under assurances the Pentagon wouldn’t “permit or condone discriminatory actions that compromise good order and discipline or otherwise violate military codes of conduct.”
Sexual orientation isn’t mentioned anywhere in the amendment, nor in the existing provision in the law that it would expand, but the amendment is likely intended to protect anti-gay service members.
Fleming’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the amendment or to verify the language offered by the ACLU.
The language of the amendment as provided by the ACLU follows:
SEC. 5 EXPANSION AND IMPLEMENTATION OF PROTECTION OF RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE OF MEMBERS OF THE ARMED FORCES AND CHAPLAINS OF SUCH MEMBERS
(a) ACCOMMODATION OF MEMBERS’ BELIEFS, ACTIONS, AJ’\JD SPEECH.-Subsection (a)(1) of section 533 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (Public Law 112-239; 126 Stat. 1727; 10 U.S.C. prec. 1030 note) is amended –
(1) by striking “The Armed Forces shall accommodate the beliefs” and inserting “Except in cases of military necessity, the Armed Forces shall accommodate the beliefs, actions, and speech”; and
(2) by inserting “, actions, or speech” after “such beliefs”.
(b) NARROW EXCEPTION.-Subsection (a)(2) of this section is amended by striking “that threaten” and inserting “that actually harm”.
(c) DEADLINE FOR REGULATIONS; CONSULTATION.-The implementation regulations required by subsection (c) of such section shall be issued not later than 120 days after the enactment of this Act. In preparing such regulations, the Secretary of Defense shall consult with the official military faith-group representatives who endorse military chaplains.