Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) plans to introduce an amendment on Wednesday to the National Defense Authorization Act in a mark-up of the bill before the House Armed Services Committee that is aimed at creating "a conscience protection clause" for military chaplains in the wake of the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." According to an email obtained by Metro Weekly that was apparently sent by one of Akin's staff members, a second amendment -- relating to the Defense of Marriage Act -- will be introduced as well in a plan that was organized with several anti-LGBT organizations on the right.
In a release today, Akin said, "Since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, we have heard stories of military chaplains facing censorship for their opposition to the liberal agenda. Chaplains and servicemembers should not face recrimination or persecution in the military for standing strong on their religious beliefs in opposition to homosexuality. A military chaplain is charged with meeting the religious needs of all of those under his or her care, but that chaplain must also remain true to their own faith."
In the email obtained by Metro Weekly, the authenticity of which Akin's office would not confirm, Akin's legislative director, Justin Johnson, wrote to several House staff members and outside advocates on May 1 about the Republicans' plans to offer two amendments -- not just Akin's amendment -- to address concerns about the post-DADT military.
Johnson wrote, per the email, "On the chaplain/DOMA issue, the plan is to split the consensus language into two amendments: a conscience protection clause and the application of DOMA to military bases. Rep. Akin is planning to offer the conscience protection clause amendment, and Rep. [Steven] Palazzo is planning to offer the DOMA on military bases amendment. We believe that having two amendments gives us the strongest hand going into conference with the Senate."
Palazzo's office did not respond to a request for comment from Metro Weekly.
Human Rights Campaign vice president for communications Fred Sainz tells Metro Weekly, "We have been working hard today with the offices of members of the House Armed Services Committee, including favorable Republicans, to provide them with any information needed to explain why they should vote against these harmful amendments."
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network spokesman Zeke Stokes, whose organization fought for DADT repeal, tells Metro Weekly, "It's clear that there are a few opponents of equality on Capitol Hill that want to roll back the progress we have made and are looking for new ways to make our gay and lesbian service members second-class citizens. But their views are out of step with the American people and out of step with our nation's military leaders who have made it clear that the implementation of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is proceeding smoothly."
Johnson went on in the email to note potential legal questions with the language the offices had been considering using: "Our current plan is to offer the consensus language as drafted. However, when we asked Legislative Counsel to put it together, they did suggest some changes to the conscience protection amendment to make the language consistent as well as some structural changes to make the intent more clear. Our initial thought is not to make any changes, however because some of these edits do seem logical, I wanted to send the comments out to the group. Again, I don't want to open a can of worms, and we can always revert to the original language, but I did think it might be worth discussing some of these suggestions."
It is not clear which version of the language Akin will be offering in the committee on Wednesday.
Among the advocates included in the planning for the amendments being offered and from whom Johnson was seeking input were Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness; Brian Duggan, a lobbyist for the National Organization for Marriage; Austin Nimocks and Daniel Blomberg, lawyers with the Alliance Defense Fund; Arthur Schulcz, a Virginia lawyer who brought a lawsuit on behalf of chaplains claiming religious discrimination even prior to the repeal of DADT; Tom McClusky from the Family Research Council; Doug Lee and Ron Crews from the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty; members of the Archdiocese for the Military Services; Nathaniel Bennett, the director of government affairs for the American Center for Law and Justice; and the president of the Associated Gospel Churches, which has highlighted on its main page a link to the organization's "Resolution on Homosexuality and the Military." FRC has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Jeff Krehely, vice president for LGBT Research and Communications at the Center for American Progress, expressed concern upon seeing the list of those consulted on the language, saying, "It is remarkable that HASC Republicans consulted with extremely conservative and anti-gay organizations in drafting these amendments. This issue is clearly not about the troops or national security, it’s about advancing the right-wing’s attack on equal rights for gay people."
[Photos: Akin, right. Palazzo, left. (Photos from House websites.)]