June 11, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
White House objects to ‘conscience’ language in defense bill

The White House “strongly objects” to “conscience” language aimed to make it easier for service members to harass their gay colleagues that was inserted to the House version of major defense budget legislation — while exercising a veto threat over the bill as a whole.

In a Statement of Administration Policy on Monday, the White House Office of Management and Budget says the language would undermine a commander’s authority to maintain discipline in his unit.

“The administration strongly objects to section 530, which would require the Armed Forces to accommodate, except in cases of military necessity, ‘actions and speech’ reflecting the “conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the member,” the statement says. “By limiting the discretion of commanders to address potentially problematic speech and actions within their units, this provision would have a significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment.”

The language was added last week to the House version of the fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill as an amendment during the committee markup by Rep. John Fleming (R-La.)

Fleming’s measure 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 accommodate them. It’s seen as way for troops to harass their gay colleagues for religious reasons without fear of reprisal.

The language expands on existing “conscience” provision that were signed into law last year by President Obama, who at the time called them “unnecessary” and gave assurances the Pentagon would implement it in a way that was consistent with good order.

The White House enumerates other concerns over the defense legislation, such as the restrictions on the administration to align the armed forces in a way consistent with Obama’s military strategy.

The statement also objects to the way the defense authorization bill “assumes adoption of the House Budget Resolution framework,” saying Obama’s senior advisers would recommend a veto if the legislation were sent to this desk under this framework. No such veto threat is explicitly made for the conscience provision in the bill.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, says the ACLU is “pleased” the administration has objections to the language and called on Congress to remove language as the legislative process goes further.

“We are pleased to see the administration’s very strong objections to this unnecessary, dangerous provision,” Thompson said. “Members of Congress should heed the warnings about this provision having a ‘significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment’ by removing it before the defense bill is sent to President Obama later this year.”

Fleming’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the White House’s objections to the lawmaker’s amendment.

The House is expected to vote on its version of the defense authorization bill this week. Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee, where Democrats hold a majority, was set to consider its version of the legislation on Wednesday.

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

1 Comment
  • If you are in the military, get out! It is wrong to guard the opium poppies and brutally murder innocent children in the name of protecting our freedom. The current Commander in Chief is not a strapping young socialist Muslim Jihadist for your liking.

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