RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
We now know that most American military personnel see no problem serving with openly gay comrades. Still, that survey, conducted by the U.S. military, hasn't persuaded many military chaplains who are upset. A large number of the 3,000 chaplains are evangelical, and they believe that repealing the military's don't ask, don't tell policy may affect how they do their jobs.
NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: A few months ago, Ronald Crews began asking military chaplains what they thought about repealing don't ask, don't tell. Crews is a retired Army colonel and chaplain and he works with active chaplains from his evangelical denomination.
One response in particular bothered him. The chaplain had just returned from a briefing by a general about the impact of changing the policy and he asked the general if the military would protect him if he asserted that homosexuality is a sin.
Colonel RONALD CREWS (U.S. Army, Retired; Former Chaplain): And the response he received from this four-star general was: If you cannot accept the change is coming, you have an option - you can resign your commission.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Crews is one of 66 retired chaplains who sent a letter urging President Obama to retain don't ask, don't tell. Active duty chaplains have also complained anonymously. One said in a Pentagon survey that the change creates a, quote, "unavoidable conflict with his ability to preach and teach the Bible." Another asked, quote, "Will chaplains be forced to integrate homosexuals into family ministry?"
Or, says Daniel Blomberg, an attorney for the conservative legal group Alliance Defense Fund, what if a soldier confides to a chaplain that he's gay?
Mr. DANIEL BLOMBERG (Alliance Defense Fund): What happens when the chaplain responds according to the dictates of his faith and says that type of behavior - like other types of sexual sins - is not in accordance with God's will?
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Blomberg says the proposed rules don't make that clear, but he says the chaplain could be open to a charge of discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Mr. BLOMBERG: And that could be career-ending for a chaplain.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: The upshot, Blomberg says, is that chaplains won't be able to freely express their faith.
Mr. BLOMBERG: They feel that repealing don't ask, don't tell will put them in a situation where they have to choose between obeying the God that they serve and the country that they love.
Major General JOHN ALTENBERG (U.S. Army, Retired): I don't think that chaplains will be forced to choose between their faith and their job.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: That's retired Major General John Altenberg, who was the number two lawyer in the Army. He says, for example, if a gay soldier wants counseling from a conservative chaplain...
Gen. ALTENBERG: The chaplain would say, I'm just really not comfortable doing this. I'm going to ask this other chaplain to take care of this.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: And they wouldn't be forced to do it.
Gen. ALTENBERG: They would not be forced to.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Dennis Camp, a retired colonel and Army chaplain for 27 years, agrees. He says the proposed rules clearly protect a chaplain's religious rights. But what chaplains can't do, he says, is act like, quote, "moral policemen and openly condemn homosexuality." He says the chaplain's job is to serve everyone - religious or not, gay or straight. Camp says the objections raised by evangelicals are a smoke screen.
Colonel DENNIS CAMP (U.S. Army, Retired; Former Chaplain): They have made it an issue because they're wanting to fight this thing on moral grounds. And that's not the kind of fight it is. It's a civil rights issue.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: But ultimately, even if don't ask, don't tell is repealed, evangelicals say they'll still supply chaplains, since so many people in the armed forces come from conservative denominations.
Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.