WASHINGTON — President Obama has signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a troubling provision that compels the military to accommodate the conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of all members of the armed forces without accounting for the effect an accommodation would have.
At the same time, the president acknowledged that the provision, Section 533, is unnecessary and ill-advised, noting that the military already appropriately protects the freedom of conscience of chaplains and service members.
"The language is too broad," said Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, who cautioned that it could lead to claims of a right to discriminate.
"We strongly support accommodating beliefs, so long as doing so does not result in discrimination or harm to others," Murphy said. "The hastily drafted provision, though, has the potential to give rise to dangerous claims of a right to discriminate against not just lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members, but also women, religious minorities, and in the provision of health care."
In a signing statement that accompanied the NDAA, President Obama said his administration "remains fully committed to continuing the successful implementation of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and to protecting the rights of gay and lesbian service members" and that the Department of Defense, in implementing Section 533, will "not permit or condone discriminatory actions that compromise good order and discipline or otherwise violate military codes of conduct."
Murphy said, "It is encouraging that the president recognizes why this provision is so problematic. Going forward, it is essential for the Department of Defense to ensure that no accommodation of religious belief or conscience can result in discrimination or harm to others."