"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

So now Republicans Jim Inhofe and Roger Wicker have introduced the Military Religious Freedom Act in the Senate. A version has already passed the house. Some people have pointed out the irony in the bill’s name. I think they’re wrong. The bill careens right past irony and crashes in a crater of Orwellian dishonesty: The law would accomplish nothing except restrict the freedom of the military personnel.

It has two main provisions. One states that: “The armed forces shall accommodate the conscience and sincerely held moral principles and religious beliefs of the members of the armed forces concerning the appropriate and inappropriate expression of human sexuality,” and that chaplains won’t be required to perform any service (for example, a same-sex wedding) that is contrary to their beliefs.

Of course, that’s already military policy, so this accomplishes nothing. The second provision is the one that destroys freedom:

A military installation or other property owned or rented by, or otherwise under the jurisdiction or control of, the Department of Defense may not be used to officiate, solemnize, or perform a marriage or marriage-like ceremony involving anything other than the union of one man with one woman.

In other words:

You know all the stuff we said earlier about accommodating your conscience and sincerely held moral principles? Screw that.

Here’s what they really mean:

  • A chaplain want to perform same-sex wedding in her military chapel? We won’t accommodate that.
  • A chaplain wants to perform a civil union ceremony in his office? We won’t accommodate that.
  • A chaplain wants to offer a ritual blessing of a relationship between two wounded soldiers in a military hospital? We won’t accommodate that.

The bill contradicts itself so thoroughly it becomes unenforceable. Any chaplains facing disciplinary action for violating “military installation or other property” clause could defend themselves by pointing to the accommodation of conscience clause.

I’m sure Inhofe and Wicker don’t see it that way. They pretend religions oppose same-sex marriage without exception. They can’t imagine a chaplain’s conscience might demand that he marry or unite or bless two soldiers in need. They think they’re holding up a light but they’re stumbling in darkness. They can’t see that no matter how much they toss around “freedom” and “conscience,” those words do not mean what they think they mean.

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5 comments to “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

  • 1
    Ryan says:

    From the little I know about this, I’m pretty sure the bill is not in fact unenforceable for the reasons you’ve given. Judges are supposed to go through whatever contortions are necessary to interpret a law such that it, and any of its provisions, are not completely meaningless or self-contradictory. So I guess it would have to be decided that the first provision is not as absolute as its wording would initially suggest.
    Of course the INTENDED interpretation is quite obvious and is as contradictory as you say. And it might be unenforceable by virtue of being flagrantly unconstitutional (give it ten years and I’m sure there will be no significant doubt on this point.)

  • 2
    Anonymous says:

    The amount of laws that get passed that are self-contradictory and are consequently thrown out, is actually pretty high. It won’t get past the Senatorial review committee, or Obama’s desk. The entire reason they put the first clause in the bill and named it as such is sathat they can attack people who attack the bill, they did the same thing with the PATRIOT act. It’s a classic Republican tactic.
    E.g. Make a bill called the We Love Babies And Aren’t Communists Act, and have it actually involve lifting the regulations on child labor and the right to organize. When people oppose the bill on the grounds of “you people are fucking lunatics” respond with “so what, you hate babies and freedom? What are you, some kind of COMMUNIST?!”
    Most people don’t bother to read what a bill actually entails, so they just listen to news headlines which say “so-and-so voted no on the We Love Babies act” as opposed to doing their own research.

  • 3
    Anonymous says:

    Oh, and another thing, members of Congress can actually be prohibited from speaking for passing frivolous laws like this that they know will be overturned at the first judicial dispute.

  • 4
    Allen says:

    I realize there are a lot of religious denominations that accept same-sex marriage (including the United Church of Christ which chose to adopt inclusive language in 2005) but I wouldn’t be surprised if Inhofe and Wicker were genuinely ignorant of this fact.
    It’s very frustrating that in debates over same-sex marriage some people (not on this blog, obviously, or anywhere else that informed people to discuss it, but elsewhere) there’s a tendency to put civil marriage on one side and religious marriage on the other side. Yes, the two are separate, and always should be, but it creates the idea that religion and marriage equality are incompatible.

  • 5
    Christine says:

    So, at what point do you just stop having people name their own bills?

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