HRC Blog

The Military Chapel

“A House of Prayer for All People”

The following guest post is by Chaplain (Colonel) Paul W. Dodd, U.S. Army (Retired)

Could this be the tipping point?  Could the Pentagon’s bold decision permitting chaplains to celebrate same-sex unions in military chapels mark a turning point in the journey toward human rights for all Americans? 

Under Secretary of Defense Clifford Stanley summed it up in one historic sentence, “A military chaplain may participate in or officiate any private ceremony, whether on or off a military installation, provided that the ceremony is not prohibited by applicable state and local law.”  (September 30, 2011).  Psychologist Marsha McDonough, Ph.D., sees this as a watershed moment.  Dr. McDonough states that this decision is “so simple and yet so significant, as it could very well be the beginning of the end of marriage inequality.” 

The Forum on the Military Chaplaincy has long sought to expose the emptiness of the arguments of those opposed to open service for sexual minorities.  Charges that gays will somehow threaten unit cohesion, military readiness and discipline have proved to be spurious and unfounded.  Concerted and well-organized outcries by some former chaplains and their allies that open service will impinge unfairly upon their freedom of speech have been orchestrated to cover and conceal their own prejudice and discrimination.  Their fearful rhetoric about an onslaught of “homosexual behaviors”, sexual behaviors that have never been allowed publicly in the military – straight or gay, is disingenuous and designed to mislead. 

Their unrelenting insistence that they be allowed, apparently above all else, to preach, teach and counsel against homosexuality, is an affront to the very troops they are called and commissioned to serve.  Sadly, they have lost sight of the constitutional mandate for the exceptional and often fragile church-state arrangement in the military chaplaincy which is simply to secure the free exercise of religion for all of America’s service members.

Having served thirty-one years as an Army Chaplain, I have long respected our military leadership.  With few exceptions, I have known both our civilian and uniformed leaders to be men and women of integrity, moral courage, extraordinary intelligence, and an unyielding commitment to stay mission focused and defend this country against all enemies, foreign and domestic.  Mr. Stanley’s statement, directing the Pentagon to insure that military chapels remain houses of prayer for all who would worship there, is squarely in line with that noble tradition.  It strikes to the very heart of what America is all about.  Inequality and religious supremacy have no place in a free and open society, either in or out of the military.  Retired Navy Chaplain, CAPT John Gundlach, put it best: “The Pentagon’s decision affirms the right of all who serve in our country’s Armed Forces to have full access to the accepted rites of their faith, not just those who represent the predominant religious views.” 

The Pentagon has come down clearly on the side of liberty and justice for all.  And, that could be a turning point in the history of the gay rights movement in this country.

The Forum on the Military Chaplaincy provides resources and advocacy for a military chaplaincy which is committed to and expressive of the sacred values of personal integrity, selfless compassion, respect for others, and excellence in leadership. 

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