The final version of major Pentagon budget legislation includes watered-down “conscience” language similar to the anti-gay provision found in the House version of the bill, according to a top House Democrat on defense issues.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, affirmed during a Capitol Hill news conference Tuesday language along the lines of Section 536 of the House bill made its way into the conference report for the fiscal year 2013 defense authorization bill, although the scope of the language is more limited.
Photo by Michael Key, Washington Blade
Other language found under Section 537 of the House bill prohibiting same-sex marriages from taking place on military bases, Smith said, was removed from the final version of the bill. Smith made the remarks in response to a question from the Washington Blade.
“We struck the second provision,” Smith said. “There is modified conscience clause language still in the bill … Basically, you can believe what you believe and not be punished for it, but if your actions based on those beliefs are counter to the Uniform Code of Military Justice or counter to what’s necessary, that can be held against you. But you can’t be punished solely for your beliefs. We modified that first language, struck the second language.”
Asked whether the language applies to only chaplains or all service members, Smith replied, “Anybody.”
Following Smith’s remarks, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, added, “Of course as chaplains are concerned, they have the tenets of their faith.” Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin (D-Mich.) then added, “It is conduct which we’re going after on the part of the chaplains, not beliefs.”
Asked afterward by the Blade whether there was significant discussion during the conference committee about the conscience language, Smith voiced his personal opposition to the language.
“Just to be honest, I don’t support the conscience language that’s in the bill,” Smith said. “Now they stripped it down, they made it to the extent that it’s pretty neutral. It basically says you cannot be punished solely for your beliefs, OK? It’s language that I don’t think belongs in the bill.”
Smith added that it will have no substantive impact on service members and he’ll support the defense authorization bill as a whole.