Don’t ask, don’t tell, deja vu

“It’s like deja vu all over again,” Yogi Berra said, or something to that effect.

For some reason, I thought of that quote as I read an excellent Associated Press story on the potential impact on military chaplains of repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

The byline on the story is Tom Breen — a North Carolina-based AP newsman whose religion reporting has drawn past praise from your GetReligionistas.

Here’s the top of Breen’s story, which included contributions other AP writers:

Dozens of retired military chaplains say that serving both God and the U.S. armed forces will become impossible for chaplains whose faiths consider homosexuality a sin if the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is thrown out.

If a chaplain preaches against homosexuality, he could conceivably be disciplined as a bigot under the military’s nondiscrimination policy, the retired chaplains say. The Pentagon, however, says chaplains’ religious beliefs and their need to express them will be respected.

Clergy would be ineligible to serve as chaplains if their churches withdraw their endorsements, as some have threatened to do if “don’t ask, don’t tell” ends. Critics of allowing openly gay troops fear that clergy will leave the service or be forced to find other jobs in the military that don’t involve their faiths.

“The bottom line is religious freedom,” said retired Army Brig. Gen. Douglas Lee, one of 65 former chaplains who signed a letter urging President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to keep “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

That’s a newsy, straightforward approach to an important topic. It’s a meaty, 1,300-word report. And it’s an angle that, as our own tmatt lamented a week ago, had failed to draw much mainstream media attention.

The head GetReligion guru asked last week:

This is a story, right?

Indeed, the AP answered a few days later.

Not only that, but the AP pursued almost precisely the same angle that tmatt tackled in a recent Scripps Howard News Service column that began like this:

The setting: The office of a priest who serves as a military chaplain.

The time: This hypothetical encounter occurs soon after the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that forbids gays, lesbians and bisexuals to openly serve in America’s armed forces.

The scene: An officer requests counseling about tensions with her same-sex partner as they prepare for marriage. The priest says this would be inappropriate, since his church teaches that sex outside of marriage is sin and that the sacrament of marriage is reserved for unions of a man and a woman.

The priest offers to refer her to a chaplain at another base who represents a church that performs same-sex rites. The officer accepts, but is less than pleased at the inconvenience.

What happens next? That question is driving the tense church-state debates that continue behind the scenes of the political drama that surrounds “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“If the government normalizes homosexual behavior in the armed forces, many (if not most) chaplains will confront a profoundly difficult moral choice: whether they are to obey God or to obey men,” stated a September letter from 60-plus retired chaplains to President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

What’s that old saying (and I don’t think Yogi Berra is the source of this one) about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery?

Consider yourself flattered, tmatt. Source by source, it’s almost the same story.

The key question (and there’s no real way to answer it): When was this AP story written? How long has it been on some editor’s cyber shelf?

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • del

    AP Interviewed people for the article in the last two weeks…pretty fresh story that at least mentions the main issue here: religious liberty.


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