by Sonny Hernandez
On June 30, 2016, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that transgender individuals will be allowed to openly serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. As a result, the Department of Defense has directed commanders to conduct face-to-face “transgender awareness” training for all military members and civilians who supervise military personnel.
So far, the DOD has provided medical protocol and constructed a commander’s training handbook to ensure homosexual service members that they may begin to change their gender markers in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment System, or DEERS.
If homosexual service members are afforded the opportunity to openly serve and identify as the opposite sex, are Christian service members allowed to openly serve and identify as individuals who do not want to be subjected to transgender training that is antithetical to their faith?
Ostensibly not, given the fact that several Christian soldiers from a Nashville Army Reserves Unit were forced to attend transgender training.
On June 23, 2017, the 304 Military Police Battalion, which is part of the Army Reserves, directed soldiers to attend a mandatory “Transgender Policy Briefing.”
There are several soldiers from the unit who identify as Christians and believe homosexuality is a sin condemned in the Bible (Genesis 19:1-28; Leviticus 20:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Jude 7-8).
One of the Christian soldiers sought counsel from the 304 Military Police Battalion chaplain (Capt. Erick Barrett) concerning religious accommodation. According to one of the Christian soldiers (who will remain unnamed), the unit chaplain – an allegedly Southern Baptist endorsed chaplain – conducted the “Transgender Policy Briefing.”
The same chaplain informed this soldier that he and the 304 MP BN commander didn’t believe the transgender training would violate his sincerely held beliefs.
As a result, the Christian soldier sent an email through his chain of command with the following request for religious accommodation [emphasis added]:
The following correspondence is a request for religious accommodation from, “Transgender Policy Brief” and training:
On 6/23/2017, at 0540 hrs. I respectfully met with Capt. Erick Barrett, the 304th BN chaplain, and requested information regarding the new, “Transgender Policy Brief,” to be instructed at 1700 hrs this same day. Upon further inquiry and discussion, I was made more aware that my personal religious beliefs were to be infringed upon, and I therefore requested accommodation based on DOD 1300-17. Capt. Erick Barrett informed me that he did not believe the “Transgender Brief” would violate my sincerely held belief; however, would submit my request for accommodation through the chain of command. I was informed that the request would be submitted to Lt. Col. Wilson of the 304th MP BN and that I would be informed of its response. At approximately 0630, following accountability formation, I reported to the 304th MP BN TOC, at which time Capt. Erick Barret requested to speak to me in private. At that time he reported to me that my request for accommodation was denied, as this was an Army policy, and that he and Lt. Col. Wilson did not believe it violated my sincerely held religious beliefs; therefore necessitating religious accommodation.
The “Trans-gender Policy Brief and Training” requires me to participate in something that I believe is contrary to what my religion teaches. I believe that my abstinence from this brief and instruction would not disrupt unit cohesion, my military readiness, or my good order and discipline. However, I do believe that participation in such training will bind my conscience to another religion, thus violating my conscience and faith tenants.
I submit this request with the utmost respect and dignity for Army Policy, regulations, and the leaders I serve; however, I ask for this accommodation. Respectfully, I would also request that any responses to this request be in written form.
What was the response from the 304 MP BN commander to the Christian soldier’s request for religious accommodation?
[Name redacted] – the Army has directed that all Soldiers receive training on its Transgender Policy. While I appreciate your religious beliefs I cannot release you from receiving information on this policy since it is DA directed.
LTC Kim Wilson
304 MP BN Commander
There are several issues that need to be addressed about the aforementioned email request for religious accommodation and reply.
First, what prerogative does a Southern Baptist chaplain (a captain) have to advise a Christian soldier that transgender training will not violate his sincerely held religious convictions? The North American Mission Board, or NAMB – which is an ecclesiastical endorsing agency of military chaplains for the Southern Baptist Convention – has a policy regarding homosexuality with restrictions and guidance [emphasis added]:
… nor offer any kind of relationship training or retreat, on or off of a military installation, that would give the appearance of accepting the homosexual lifestyle or sexual wrongdoing.
Pastoral care – The document reminds chaplains that Southern Baptists view all sexual immorality as sin that violates God’s biblical standards for purity and that “Responsible pastoral care will seek to offer repentance and forgiveness, help and healing, and restoration through the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial gift of love on the cross.”
I am curious to know how the North American Mission Board – which views all forms of sexual immorality as sin – will respond to one of its alleged representatives conducting sexually immoral (transgender) training that is contrary to Southern Baptist doctrine.
Secondly, how should Christian service members respond if and when they are forced to attend transgender training? The DOD is supposed to place a high value on protecting the rights of all service members, to include Christians – to observe their faith or no faith at all. According to the Department of Defense Instruction 1300.17, all requests for religious accommodation are accessed on a case-by-case basis, and can be denied if:
Furthers a compelling governmental interest.
Is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
Requests for religious accommodation from a military policy, practice, or duty that does not substantially burden a Service member’s exercise of religion should not be evaluated under the standard established in paragraph 4e
Under these circumstances, the needs of the requesting Service member are balanced against the needs of mission accomplishment. Only if it is determined that the needs of mission accomplishment outweigh the needs of the Service member may the request be denied.
An observer may wonder if Lt. Col. Kim Wilson’s response to the religious accommodation request is unconstitutional. Wilson is correct on one thing in her email reply, that the DA has directed service members to receive training. However, the DOD also has a policy on religious accommodation, which doesn’t appear to have been taken into serious consideration.
The unnamed Christian soldier articulated his concern that the “Transgender Policy Briefing” is contrary to his sincerely held beliefs, and he even elucidated that it violates his conscience and faith tenets.
How can these Christian soldiers’ convictions be considered a burden to unit cohesion, or the good order and discipline of the Armed Forces? After all, homosexual service members are not mandated to attend a “Romans 1 or 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Policy Briefing,” because it would offend them, and would be contrary to their convictions. Therefore, Christians should not be forced either, since transgenderism is also antithetical to Christian dogma.
In closing, I am grateful to the Christian service member who respectfully requested religious accommodation, and to all of the others who are now coming forward while so many others have remained silent. Persecution is here!
The Preamble to the Constitution states [excerpt]: “… and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity …” When Christians in the U.S. military are silent when their constitutional liberties are suppressed, it is not just their own liberty that’s being abridged – it could also be their children’s one day.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are solely his and do not necessarily represent the views of any government, military, or religious organization. Sonny Hernandez wrote this article as a civilian on his own time on an issue of public interest.
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