Advocates for religious freedom in the military are mostly cheering President Trump’s policy on transgenders serving in the military and are breathing a sigh of relief as the U.S. Navy rejects the push for an theist chaplain.
On Friday, President Trump issued a memo reversing the Obama administration policy on transgender service. The president believes there are legitimate concerns about the impact of transgenders – particularly those transitioning from one identity to another – on military readiness.
“In my judgment, the previous administration failed to identify a sufficient basis to conclude that terminating the departments’ longstanding policy and practice would not hinder military effectiveness and lethality, disrupt unit cohesion, or tax military resources, and there remain meaningful concerns that further study is needed to ensure that continued implementation of last year’s policy change would not have those negative effects,” reads the memo.
The move is largely applauded by Christian voices in the military community. Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty Executive Director Phil Wright says Trump did the right thing.
“The Chaplain Alliance affirms the commander-in-chief’s decision. The number one priority for the military is to be ready to deploy and engage in and win the nation’s wars as well as defend our allies,” said Wright,a retired U.S. Army colonel who served as a chaplain while in uniform.
He says it’s time for the government to stop using the military to advance cultural and political goals.
“The military is not (designed) to engineer social change. It’s not a club. It’s not to reflect America. It is to win the nation’s wars, to defend the nation and our allies,” said Wright.
The memo largely restricts military service from people undergoing surgeries or therapies that make them undeployable if they get sent somewhere they won’t have access to those medical options.
However, it does not call for a total ban on transgenders serving in the military, and Wright says some aspects of the lingering policy leave him concerned, including safety for women in uniform.
“When you have men alleging to be women and having access to female billeting, barracks, showers, bathrooms, we think that is an issue that has not been addressed appropriately,” said Wright.
Wright says there are numerous complaints from women being forced to share quarters with men transitioning to a female identity and that those women not only fear for their safety but are deeply concerned that their superiors will have little regard for their privacy.
He’s also concerned about whether chaplains and other personnel will be pressured to stifle their beliefs on transgender issues.
“We are very concerned that the constitutional protections afforded our service members as far as religious liberty are not addressed when those who continue to serve seem to have all of the rights,” said Wright.
However, Wright is fully thrilled to see the U.S. Navy once again reject the application of a humanist to join the chaplain corps. Jason Heap was rejected once during the Obama administration but tried again this year. The effort met swift resistance on Capitol Hill from 45 Republicans in the House and 22 in the Senate.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., led the effort to quash Heap’s application. Both serve on the respective armed services committees in the House and Senate.
“We’re very fortunate that we have people in our civilian leadership, which is part of our military, having oversight. We were glad that they were able to step in and make such a cogent argument,” said Wright.
Wright says the idea of an atheist chaplain boggles the mind.
“By definition, humanists or human secularists or atheists could not be a military chaplain is to be religious. Their very first comment will be that they are not religious and have no intention of being religious. They’re actually hostile to religion,” said Wright.
He does not see Heap’s application as an effort to water down the chaplains’ corps but the exact opposite.
“It seems to be more aimed at doing away with the chaplain corps than it is to minister to those soldiers of that particular belief system,” said Wright.
Wright points out the chaplains were first ordered into the Army by Gen. George Washington and that chaplains play a far more critical role in combat than many people realize.
“Having served myself, I know many commanders would not go downrange into combat without a chaplain in their ranks because of what the chaplains provide for those commanders and the men and women that they lead and the family members left behind,” said Wright.
“You have someone who understands authority. You have someone that’s disciplined. You have someone who has a high view of life, and in those murky fog-of-war situation, I think you would want someone, whether it’s a soldier who’s pulling the trigger or a chaplain who is trying to instruct them about just war and about doing right at the right time for the right reason.
“That’s who you want in your formation and not someone who does not have an informed worldview like that,” said Wright.
With atheists wanting to join a unit specifically for people of deep faith and people wanting to join the military while identifying as a different gender than their biology indicates, how challenging is it for chaplains and other believers in the service today?
“You have a biblical worldview on the one hand that our chaplains hold to and that a lot of Americans hold to and then you have other worldviews which lead to some of these other kinds of belief systems or facts that aren’t really truth.
“You get into, ‘Well, maybe that’s your truth not my truth. There is one absolute truth,” said Wright. “This is an ongoing challenge that has always been around ever since Jesus walked the earth.”