Unfit to Serve?


The marginalization of orthodox religious believers proceeds apace.

Leon Panetta, former Sec Def and Catholic

The most fundamental responsibility of government is "to provide for the common defense."  How a government discharges this responsibility says a lot about its larger purposes and methods. 

Some of the tactics now used within the U.S. security establishment are coming to resemble the intimidation and ostracism long associated with the academic left.  Catholics, who long fought to be accepted as loyal Americans, may be among the first to suffer.

A case in point: The Pennsylvania Army Reserve recently grabbed attention for an equal opportunity presentation that identified Catholics, orthodox Jews, and Evangelical Christians as extremists, along with Islamist terrorists and Islamophobes.  I found this troubling, but less alarming than some other commentators have.

From my time in the military, I can imagine a scenario:  Captain Toobusy says it's time for the mandatory annual EO Training.  Sergeant Needful tells Private Bagofdoughnuts to come up with something innovative, "make the troops think." Private B, who cannot distinguish a Buddhist monk from a Swiss Guard, and whose familiarity with religious belief extends to a Jehovah's Witness comic found on his doorstep, surfs the web and produces the material in question, perhaps thinking it demonstrates the "tolerance" he has heard so much about.  No one reviews the routine presentation.  Suddenly, you're famous.

Or maybe the Army paid thousands of dollars to a "consultant" claiming expertise on "leadership training."  I recall one such corporate trainer who inadvertently endorsed Nazi eugenics without realizing the implications of what she had gleaned from the web.

Maybe, rather than malice, it was a case of ignorance operating in a climate of relativism.  But other officially mandated tactics are more ominous.

In February, after attending a general papal audience and as one of his last official acts, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed a memo extending some military benefits to same-sex domestic partners of military service members and their children: multiple insurance benefits, childcare, shopping privileges at military facilities, youth programs, etc.

The changes aim to give same-sex couples as much of the material blessings of military marriage as possible, if the couple simply certifies, "We are each other's sole domestic partner, in a committed relationship, and intend to remain so indefinitely."  There are a few other stipulations, but those are the core requirements. 

The change further removes the government from judging the relationship that merits these benefits.  Only the service member himself or herself decides what qualifies as "indefinite" commitment.  The long-ago days when a divorce would threaten an officer's prospects now seem quaint.

Panetta's new policy could not extend those benefits reserved by law for spouses.  But his memo goes extraordinarily far towards anticipating such a change.  It looks to the day when "the Defense of Marriage Act is no longer applicable to the Department of Defense" and announces that on that day, "it will be the policy of the Department to construe the words 'spouse' and 'marriage' without regard to sexual orientation." 

Panetta apparently did not want to leave any latitude, or burden of decision, to a successor on whose watch such a change might occur (though a different secretary could take a different tack, it would be a difficult reversal).  This mirrors court opinions on same-sex marriage that assert there could never be any possible rational basis for marriage "discrimination."

The purpose of the memo is clear and flows from the bipartisan decision to end the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.  The memo begins, "Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation no longer has a place in the military.  Today, our military leaders are ensuring that all America's sons and daughters who volunteer to serve our nation in uniform are treated with equal dignity and respect... " 

The effect is chilling:  if you want the security clearance, you had best not advocate traditional views about marriage and family, even in private.

If that statement simply ensured that service members were evaluated on their duty performance rather than their sexual proclivities, it would represent no great change.  But military members, trained to comply, will certainly understand that the intent goes well beyond that. 

Anyone who supports traditional views of marriage expresses that view to the detriment of his or her career advancement.  It is an absolute affirmation that sexual orientation and marriage comprise the same kind of question as the racial integration that was led by the military.

Beyond the Defense Department, there are further troubling signs.  I was recently interviewed about an applicant for a federal job who is seeking a security clearance.  I've done many such interviews, which seek to determine the trustworthiness of candidates for sensitive positions and identify vulnerabilities to blackmail.

But there is now a new wrinkle to a question:  "Do you have any reason to believe that the candidate harbors any biases or prejudices against any group or individual based on age, sex, race, color, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or parental status?" 

The questions are broad and loosely phrased in order to elicit any possible "adverse" information about character (the investigator wasn't sure what "parental status" meant).  But, if a candidate for a security clearance is known to be a traditional believer, is that a reason to suspect that he might "harbor discriminatory views" about marriage or sexual orientation?

I don't know if someone reported for these thought crimes would be denied a clearance.  But no one who needs a clearance wants to court risk.  The effect is chilling:  if you want the security clearance, you had best not advocate traditional views about marriage and family, even in private.  The subject is taboo.

Eventually, the question may become simpler:  "Do you have any reason to believe the candidate harbors any belief in natural law, or a divinely created order that is not to be changed or altered by humans?"  

Then, we really are back in the catacombs.




Joseph Wood. "Unfit to Serve?" The Catholic Thing (April 13, 2012). 

Reprinted with permission from The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info@thecatholicthing.org.

The Catholic thing — the concrete historical reality of Catholicism — is the richest cultural tradition in the world. That is the deep background to The Catholic Thing which daily brings you an original column that provides fresh and penetrating insight into the current events affecting the Church, along with other commentary, news, analysis, and — yes — even humor. Our writers include some of the most seasoned and insightful Catholic minds in America: Robert Royal, Brad Miner, James V. Schall, S.J., Hadley Arkes, Francis J. Beckwith, Mary Eberstadt, Austin Ruse, George Marlin, William Saunders, and many others. 


Joseph Wood is a former White House official who worked on foreign policy, including Vatican affairs. He is a retired Air Force colonel, and his career included operational and command fighter assignments in Korea and Europe; a faculty position at the U.S. Air Force Academy in the Department of Political Science; and duty at the Pentagon as speech writer and politico-military affairs officer for the Chief of Staff and Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

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