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Fleming defends ‘conscience’ amendment to harass gay troops

Louisiana Republican says measure would allow freedom of religion

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John Fleming, United States House of Representatives, Louisiana, Republicans, Gay News, Washington Blade
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.”

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    June 12, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    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.

  2. Dan Kreutzer

    June 13, 2013 at 4:15 am

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

  3. oneSTARman

    June 13, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    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.

  4. Jim Guinnessey

    June 13, 2013 at 5:44 pm

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

    • Tad Morris

      June 13, 2013 at 10:14 pm

      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.

  5. Steve Rappoport

    June 13, 2013 at 2:15 pm

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

  6. Diane McLaughlin

    June 13, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    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".

  7. Clarence Wagner

    June 14, 2013 at 5:10 am

    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.

  8. Cat Dynes

    June 14, 2013 at 7:37 am

    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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HHS awards more than $48 million to HRSA centers in effort to beat HIV/AIDS

Biden campaigned on beating epidemic by 2025

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HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra hailed the contribution of more than $48 million to beat HIV/AIDS. (photo public domain)

The Biden administration has awarded more than $48 million to medical centers under Health Resources & Services Administration in localities with high incidents of HIV infection as part of the initiative to beat the disease, the Washington Blade has learned exclusively.

Xavier Becerra, secretary of health and human services, said in a statement the contributions are key component of the initiative, which is called “Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S.” and seeks to reduce new infections by 90 percent by 2030.

“HHS-supported community health centers are often a key point of entry to HIV prevention and treatment services, especially for underserved populations,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am proud of the role they play in providing critical services to 1.2 million Americans living with HIV. Today’s awards will ensure equitable access to services free from stigma and discrimination, while advancing the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2025.”

The $48 million contribution went to HRSA centers 271 HRSA-supported health centers across 26 states, Puerto Rico and D.C. — areas identified with the highest rates of HIV infections — to expand HIV prevention and treatment services, including access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as well as outreach and care coordination, according to HHS.

The Ending the HIV Epidemic was set up under the Trump administration, which made PrEP a generic drug after an accelerated effort and set a goal of beating HIV by 2030. Biden has continued the project, after campaigning on beating HIV a full five years earlier in 2025. Observers, however, are skeptical he can meet that goal.

Diana Espinosa, acting HRSA administrator, said in a statement the $48 million will go a long way in reaching goals to beat HIV/AIDS.

“We know our Health Center Program award recipients are well-positioned to advance the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. initiative, with a particular focus on facilitating access to PrEP, because of their integrated service delivery model,” Espinosa said. “By integrating HIV services into primary care, and providing essential enabling services like language access or case management, HRSA-supported health centers increase access to care and improve health outcomes for patients living with HIV.”

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Melania Trump announced as guest for Log Cabin Republicans’ annual dinner

Former first lady Melania Trump is set to be a special guest at the annual “Spirit of Lincoln” dinner hosted by Log Cabin Republicans.

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Former first lady Melania Trump is set to be a special guest at the annual “Spirit of Lincoln” dinner hosted by Log Cabin Republicans, the organization announced on Tuesday.

The event — which will take place Nov. 6 at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., marking a change of tradition in holding the dinner in D.C. — will likely mark an attempt for Melania Trump to develop her image as an LGBTQ ally and tamp down the reputation the Trump administration was hostile to LGBTQ people.

Charles Moran, managing director for Log Cabin Republicans, hailed Melania Trump in a statement for her work as first lady and breaking barriers for the Republican Party.

“Melania Trump’s work as First Lady, from helping children reach their full potential to championing a more inclusive Republican Party, has been historic,” Moran said. “Her vocal support of Log Cabin Republicans has been a signal to Republicans everywhere that it is possible to simultaneously be conservative and support equality under the law for all Americans.”

According to the Log Cabin Republicans, Melania Trump at the dinner will be awarded with the 2021 Spirit of Lincoln Award. Other high-profile Republicans in the past who have appeared at the annual event are Carly Fiorina, Newt Gingrich, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Mary Cheney.

Moran, in response to an email inquiry from the Washington Blade, said Melania Trump will not only be an award recipient, but is set to deliver remarks at the event.

It won’t be the first time Melania Trump has collaborated with Log Cabin. During the 2020 election, she appeared in a video for Outspoken, the media arm for Log Cabin Republicans, saying “nothing could be further from the truth” her husband, former President Trump, is against LGBTQ people.

Among the anti-LGBTQ policies under Trump were a transgender military ban, religious freedom carve-out seen to enable anti-LGBTQ discrimination and the U.S. Justice Department arguing against LGBTQ inclusion under civil rights law when the issue was before the U.S. Supreme Court. Nonetheless, Trump connected with a certain faction of LGBTQ people and his administration included high-profile LGBTQ appointees, such as Richard Grenell as the first openly gay person to serve in a Cabinet role.

As first reported by the Washington Blade, Melania Trump said in 2020 she wanted to light up the White House in rainbow colors similar to the display during the Obama years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for same-sex marriage nationwide. However, the vision never came to pass at a time when White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had a role in quashing an symbolic support for LGBTQ people in Pride Month.

The Log Cabin announcement comes at a time when Melania Trump is facing new scrutiny over her response to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and whether she erroneously believes, like her husband, he was the winner of the 2020 election.

According to a preview in Politico, former White House press secretary and Melania Trump aide Stephanie Grisham says in her upcoming book she texted the former first lady on Jan. 6 to ask: “Do you want to tweet that peaceful protests are the right of every American, but there is no place for lawlessness and violence?”

A minute later, Melania replied with a one-word answer: “No,” Grisham reportedly writes of her account. At that moment, Grisham writes she was at the White House preparing for a photo shoot of a rug she had selected, according to Politico.

The Blade has placed a request in with the office of former President Donald Trump to confirm her appearance at the dinner and comment on what went into the Melania Trump’s decision to appear at the event.

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Blinken expresses concern over LGBTQ Afghans

Groups have urged White House to implement 10-point plan

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Photo public domain)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday expressed concern over the fate of LGBTQ Afghans who remain in the country after the Taliban regained control of it.

Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline asked Blinken during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that focused on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan about a 10-point plan to protect LGBTQ Afghans for which the Council for Global Equality and five other advocacy groups have called the Biden administration to implement. Blinken told Cicilline, a Democrat, that he had “not personally seen the report that you referred to …, but I’m going to take a look at that myself.”

“Thank you for rightfully putting the spotlight on concerns about the LGBTQI+ community in Afghanistan and the particular threat that they find themselves under,” said Blinken. “This is something that we are focused on.”

The Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital on Aug. 15 and toppled then-President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

A Taliban judge in July said the group would once again execute gay men if it were to return to power in Afghanistan.

The U.S. evacuated more than 100,000 people from the country before American troops completed their withdrawal from the country on Aug. 30. It remains unclear whether any LGBTQ Afghans were among those who were able to leave during the evacuations from Kabul International Airport, but Immigration Equality last week said it spoke “directly” with 50 LGBTQ Afghans before the U.S. withdrawal ended.

Canada is thus far the only country that has specifically said it would offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans.

“It’s important, in my view, that we take steps to ensure that those who would be subjected to violence or worse because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are safe,” Cicilline told Blinken during the hearing.

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