Meridian Star

November 1, 2012

Craig Ziemba: Wicker's First Amendment Defense

Craig Ziemba / Special to The Star
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — Senators Roger Wicker and Jim Inhofe’s Military Religious Freedom Act of 2012 offers a constitutional, legislative response to the following question: Can military members be compelled to violate their religious beliefs as a basis for promotion, assignment, or continued service?

The bill (with similar House versions supported by Alan Nunnelee, Steven Palazzo, and Gregg Harper) is in response to pressure placed upon military chaplains to perform same sex marriages, even when doing so clearly violates their Scripture-based, and constitutionally-protected faith. Senator Wicker, a former Air Force JAG with 27 years of military service, has authored a logical legal solution to a very real concern facing devout Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and Evangelical Christians serving in the military.

Repealing the policy allowing homosexuals to serve in the military is certainly within the purview of the Commander-in-Chief and Department of Defense. However, as Senator Wicker’s bill contends, forcing chaplains to commit sacrilege by condoning and assenting to conduct prohibited by the very Scriptures they base their ministry upon is decidedly not.

And this principle of conscience doesn’t just single out homosexuality. Consider for argument’s sake adultery or incest, which are also clearly prohibited in both the Old and New Testaments (and coincidentally outlawed by the Universal Code of Military Justice as well). If the President and DoD were to suddenly change UCMJ policy and declare adultery to be legally acceptable behavior within the ranks, should chaplains be ordered to ignore the Seventh Commandment in their preaching and counseling? Should Christian Commanding Officers be forced to hold Adultery Pride events to demonstrate sufficient political correctness or face career ending repercussions? For that matter, should a Jewish chaplain be forced to eat a ham sandwich or a Hindu compelled to eat beef?

To be clear, some religious faiths are inherently incompatible with military service. Denominations or religions that do not believe in the doctrine of just war obviously fall under the protection of conscientious objection, and forcing their members to fight would be an abrogation of their First Amendment right to freedom of religion. But religions whose members have served honorably in combat from Independence to Afghanistan should not suddenly find themselves treated like enemies of the state simply because they believe in the Bible.

Those of us who have sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States are also entitled to enjoy the freedom of religion we fought to preserve. There are understandably limits to what we might say while in uniform, and we might have to serve under policies with which we disagree. But the conscience of a military chaplain, enlisted soldier, or officer is just as free as any other citizen’s, and his worship is between him and his Creator.

Senator Wicker’s defense of our First Amendment rights isn’t political grandstanding. It’s a rational and constitutional attempt to guarantee of one of our most precious rights and to provide welcome reassurance to those of us who are committed to serving God and Country at the same time.

Craig Ziemba is a pilot who lives in Meridian.