Army chaplain accused of "dereliction of duty" for not leading retreat with gay marriages
FORT BRAGG, North Carolina, August 16, 2018 (Calvin Freiburger, LifeSiteNews, shutterstock.com) – A Christian chaplain in the U.S. Army may face a court martial for rescheduling a marriage retreat he could not lead due to the involvement of same-sex couples.
Army Maj. Scott Squires was a decorated chaplain at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and is endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board (NAMB), Todd Starnes reported. NAMB policy says chaplains cannot “conduct or attend a wedding ceremony for any same-sex couple, bless such a union or perform counseling in support of such a union … nor offer any kind of relationship training or retreat, on or off a military installation.”
Army regulations not only allow but require chaplains to “uphold requirements of their endorsing religious group,” with recognition that doing so “may restrict chaplain participation in a command or religious support event” from time to time. So, when tasked with conducting a Strong Bonds marriage retreat that would have included a lesbian couple, Squires rescheduled the event so another chaplain could take over.
Rather than that settling the matter, however, an Army investigator under the command of Major General Kurt Sonntag recommended that Squires be found guilty of “dereliction of duty” because he took three business days to reschedule the retreat.
“The ‘shield’ that is afforded to CH Squires )by the First Amendment does not permit CH Squires, or any soldier, to use the ‘shield’ as a ‘sword’ to cut off the rights of another,” the investigator claimed, declaring a soldier’s homosexuality to be a protected status.
Depending on the particulars of a specific case, a dereliction of duty conviction can carry penalties of losing pay, being dishonorably discharged, and/or imprisonment anywhere from three months to two years.
Mikey Weinstein, head of the atheist group Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), told the Army Times that secularists’ real target should be the Southern Baptist Convention itself. Weinstein’s group has a long record of opposition to religious expression in the military.
If the “Army requires them to follow their endorsing agency, which is demanding that its chaplains follow something that our Supreme Court found was legal” in Obergefell v. Hodges, Weinstein argued, then Defense Secretary James Mattis “ought to disqualify that particular entity as a chaplain endorsing agency.
“If you’re going to view same-sex couples as a sin against God, you can either hold your tongue, change your attitude, or get out of the military,” he declared.
Before the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell decision, pro-LGBT activists strenuously denied that legally recognizing same-sex “marriages” would impact the lives or freedom of Americans who disagreed.
“I simply did what I’m required to do under Army regulations and my endorser’s rules,” Squires said of his situation. “I am shocked that I would even be investigated, let alone threatened with punishment, for following the rules.”
Squires and his assistant, Kacie Griffin, who faces similar potential charges for not immediately signing up the lesbian couple, are being represented by the religious liberty law firm First Liberty Institute, which is demanding that Major General Sonntag reject the investigation and its recommendations.
If he does not, First Liberty’s Mike Berry told Starnes, then either the Army or Congress should hold him “accountable for allowing this aggressive anti-religious hostility against its military chaplains to occur under his command.
“No chaplain should face the specter of a court martial and military prison for following the rules of their faith and the Army,” he declared.
Starnes added that punishing Squires and Griffin would violate the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act’s affirmation that “no member of the Armed Forces may require a chaplain to perform any rite, ritual or ceremony that is contrary to the conscience, moral principles or religious beliefs of the chaplain.”
As for Weinstein’s attack on the Southern Baptist Convention’s mission board, Berry told the Army Times that disqualifying an endorsing agency for following Christian teachings on sexuality “would virtually eliminate the Chaplain Corps.”
“(W)hat happens to all the other endorsing agencies that hold similar views?” he asked. “That would be the Roman Catholics, Muslims, and many others. Are they also disqualified now?”