In the News

Dereliction of Leadership Imperils Military

August 17, 2018

By Mike Berry, First Liberty Institute Deputy General Counsel and Director of Military Affairs

An Army chaplain and his assistant may be disciplined for following his denomination’s rules while accommodating a same-sex couple.

In my 16 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, both on active duty and now in the reserve, I have had the privilege of serving with many fine officers. I know firsthand that the difference between life and death is often a matter of leadership. Whether in combat or in training, strong and decisive leadership inspires confidence, improves morale, and contributes to the ethos of professionalism that has made the U.S. military the finest fighting force in the world.

As director of military affairs for a religious-liberty law firm, I have recently observed a disturbing trend that, if left unchecked, threatens to weaken our military from within. What began as passive-aggressive political correctness has devolved into open hostility to religious liberty in the military. Recent disturbing events within the U.S. Army are a perfect example of both.

An Army investigator under the command of Major General Kurt Sonntag recommended that Army chaplain Scott Squires be found guilty of “dereliction of duty” for rescheduling a marriage retreat that Squires is prohibited from facilitating so that another chaplain could handle it. A same-sex couple had registered for the retreat, and Squires is endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board (NAMB), which prohibits its chaplains from conducting marriage-related events for same-sex couples. NAMB’s policy clearly states that “endorsed chaplains will not 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 also require chaplains to comply with the policies of their endorsing agency. So when the couple registered for the “Strong Bonds” event Squires was facilitating, rather than disobey both his endorsing agency and the Army itself, Squires rescheduled the conference so that another chaplain could lead it. Surprisingly, the couple chose not to attend. Instead, they filed a complaint.

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