The U.S. Army has been warned that punishing a Christian chaplain for following military law that requires him to adhere to the tenets of the religious organization that sponsors him could result in a lawsuit against the military.
“Our desire is to resolve this amicably, and I am willing to discuss this matter in person, if necessary,” Michael Berry, deputy general counsel for First Liberty Institute, told Col. William Rice in a letter this week. “Should you deny this request, however, we are prepared to take the necessary legal action to vindicate [Chaplain Maj. Scott] Squires’ legal rights.”
Rice is chief of the Special Warfare Education Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where an investigator recommended discipline against Squires.
The dispute began when a soldier in a same-sex relationship demanded to participate in a “strong bonds” seminar Squires was scheduled to facilitate. She made the demand after the registration deadline had passed. Squires explained that military law requires him to follow the doctrines of his endorsing organization, the Southern Baptist Convention, which forbids him from teaching marriage seminars to same-sex duos.
Squires wanted to help the soldier sign up for the next seminar, which was to be led by a chaplain who didn’t have the same restrictions.
Instead, the soldier insisted on attending Squires’ seminar. She raised such a ruckus, the seminar was rescheduled to accommodate her, depriving other soldiers who had registered of the opportunity to attend.
The soldier also complained of the chaplain’s actions, and an investigator suggested Squires be disciplined.
The discipline, however, would violate the military’s requirements that Squires follow the teachings of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, his endorsing organization.
The SBC states that “all ministries regarding human sexuality will reflect the historic, natural and biblical view of marriage as God’s life gift of ‘the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.'”
Further, the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act specifically forbids action against a chaplain for refusing to do something forbidden by their beliefs.
“Chaplain Squires should not have his career ruined for following the rules of both his faith and the Army,” said Berry. “Federal law protects Chaplain Squires and prohibits the military from punishing any chaplain who acts in accordance with their religious tenets. We urge the Army to follow the law, just as Chaplain Squires did. Chaplains should not have to give up their First Amendment rights in order to serve.”
“I was shocked the investigator concluded that I should be reprimanded for doing something I’m required to do under Army regulations and my endorser’s rules,” Squires said in a statement released by Liberty. “I hope the Army sees that I was simply following Army regulations and the tenets of my church.”
Squires has served in the military 25 years, first as an enlisted soldier. Liberty explained that no chaplain in the military can serve without an endorsement by a recognized religious organization. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the endorsing agency for Squires and many other chaplains across all branches of the military.
Both the NAMB and the SBC forbid their chaplains from facilitating marriage retreats that include same-sex couples. Doing so would violate the Southern Baptist church’s beliefs regarding the institution of marriage and could result in a chaplain losing his endorsement. Army regulations also require chaplains to adhere to their endorsing agency’s rules and religious tenets.
Liberty’s letter contended Squires’ actions are protected by the law and the investigator who recommended punishment either was unaware of the facts or ignored them.
“Disparate treatment under these circumstances is protected by federal regulation,” the letter said.