June 5, 2013 at 11:57 am EST | by Chris Johnson
Republican’s proposal would make it easier to harass gay service members
John Fleming, Louisiana, Republican Party, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) is introducing an amendment to expand the “conscience” provision in defense law. (Photo public domain)

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:


(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.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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