June 12, 2013 at 2:25 pm EDT | 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

  • oneSTARman

    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.

  • Steve Rappoport

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

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