June 12, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
Fleming defends ‘conscience’ amendment to harass gay troops
John Fleming, Louisiana, Republican Party, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) is defending his “conscience” provision in the defense authorization bill. (Photo public domain)

A Louisiana House Republican is defending a “conscience” amendment that would make it easier for service members to harass their gay colleagues in the wake of White House objections to the measure.

In a statement on Wednesday, Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) blasted the Obama administration for criticizing his amendment — which has become Section 530 of the House version of the fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill — by saying the president is “continuing his war on free speech.”

“With its statement, the White House is now endorsing military reprimands of members who keep a Bible on their desk or express a religious belief,” Fleming said. “That is an outrageous position, but it’s what I’ve come to expect from an administration that is aggressively hostile toward religious beliefs that it deems to be politically incorrect.”

The 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 make an accommodation. It’s seen as a way for troops to harass their gay colleagues for religious reasons without fear of reprisal.

The lawmaker’s reaction comes in response to the Statement of Administration Policy that the White House Office of Management and Budget made public on Tuesday. The administration said it “strongly objects” to the provision because it would undermine a military commander’s authority in a unit. The White House has threatened a veto of the House version of the defense authorization bill, but it didn’t enumerate that provision as a reason for the veto threat.

Fleming, a physician and small business owner, goes on in his statement to say the purpose of the amendment is to protect the free speech of service members who hold religious beliefs.

“It has bipartisan support and takes into account the unique context of military service, accommodating the beliefs of our service members, while not jeopardizing military necessity,” Fleming said. “We need to protect the free speech of the brave warriors who fight to safeguard our liberties, and I hope Congress will reject this blatant White House attack on religious freedom.”

Zeke Stokes, spokesperson for OutServe-SLDN, disputed Fleming’s characterization of his amendment, saying the lawmaker’s “rhetoric does not match reality.”

“The fact is that this amendment would protect inappropriate, defamatory, and discriminatory speech and actions – a significant expansion of current protections – and would leave commanders with no recourse against such prejudicial conduct when it occurs in their units,” Stokes said. “The military already has in place adequate protections for religious freedom and this measure is unwarranted and harmful.”

The full statement from Fleming follows:

“President Obama is continuing his war on free speech. With the IRS trying to intimidate and silence conservative groups, and the Justice Department digging into the phone records of reporters, it’s no surprise that the president also wants to deny First Amendment rights to our Armed Forces. With its statement, the White House is now endorsing military reprimands of members who keep a Bible on their desk or express a religious belief. That is an outrageous position, but it’s what I’ve come to expect from an administration that is aggressively hostile toward religious beliefs that it deems to be politically incorrect.

“My amendment protects, for our men and women in uniform, a principle enshrined in our Constitution and cherished since our Founding Fathers: the free exercise of one’s religious beliefs, including expressions of one’s belief. It has bipartisan support and takes into account the unique context of military service, accommodating the beliefs of our service members, while not jeopardizing military necessity. We need to protect the free speech of the brave warriors who fight to safeguard our liberties, and I hope Congress will reject this blatant White House attack on religious freedom.”

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

9 Comments
  • I guess I am not understanding why these poor schlubs in the military need so much protection around gay issues. Republicans will push these to the max, but when women and others are faced with real types of violence, Republicans hesitate to legislate protections. I thought these fearless heterosexuals in the military were so brave and courageous, yet they need triple protection from the rights of others. I don't freaking get it! Oh, yeah they call that homophobia.

  • neither MOses nor Jesus condones abusing people verbally while hiding behind free speech. ssr: you are no christian. you bear false witness.

  • I am surprised that this U.S. Congressman is promoting an idea that will protect Islamist Recruiting and Indoctrination of our soldiers by Muslim Proselytes.

  • Republican Congressman Fleming is living proof that the current GOP leadership only wants assholes in Congress!

    • I totally agree…have voted Republican since I started voting in 1971…but this is NOT the same party that I grew up with..what a pack of assholes that are totally out of step with America! I don't feel I have a party to identify with anylonger…Democrats are too far left and Republicans too far right…where are the people in the MIDDLE…we aren't represented at all.

  • Steve Rappoport

    I’d like to see the precise text of the amendment.

  • What Mr. Fleming apparently does not understand is that freedom of religion also includes freedom FROM religion. You want to practice your religion, go ahead. Just do not push your religion on me or anyone else. No one has the right to harass another person based on their sexual orientation. Freedom of speech may allow you to say what you want – doesn't mean you actually have to say it. How about following that "golden rule".

  • Wow, in these days, to propose a "conscience" amendment to make it easier for fundamentalists to harass gays in the military is 50 steps backward. How about each side respects the beliefs of the other and go their own way? As a former fundamentalist, I learned too late that "preaching nee condemning others" was anything but showing the love of God. You don't have to with gays to show respect for other humans and at least show them love and dignity for who they are. That is also true in the reverse. Meanwhile, Rep. Fleming is showing a draconian approach to "the other" with his amendment. Hello, it is 2013 and the majority of Americans don't have a problems with gays. Leave it alone and just call for mutual respect.

  • What an intellectual luddite, Where do these yahoos come from? The founding framers must be rolling in their graves. Congress hijacked by GOP idiots. There needs to be some serious housecleaning, they are a disgrace to Democratic tradition and should be sent packing. Practically ALL of these dumdums need a primer on the Constitution and WHY America was founded in the first place. Shameful.

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