Conservatives and the religious right are under the sad impression that they have found of story of anti-Christian discrimination in the military so juicy that the Family Research Council, the Liberty Counsel, entities of Fox News, and even Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association are teaming up to talk about it.
Let me give you the gist of the story via the words of FRC’s Peter Sprigg:
Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk told Todd Starnes of Fox News Radio that his openly lesbian commander at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio,Texas had essentially forced him into taking leave rather than completing his assignment. (A Lackland spokesman denied that Monk was punished, insisting to Starnes that he was simply at the end of his assignment.)
Monk was caught in the middle of a situation which involved an instructor who was subjected to an investigation for having told trainees that he opposed homosexual “marriage.” Investigators sought to determine whether the unnamed instructor had slandered homosexuals and created a “hostile work environment.”
Monk’s job was to advise the commander on disciplinary action. According to Monk, however, the commander said from the outset that “we need to lop off the head of this guy.” Monk concluded that the instructor’s remarks were innocuous, and suggested instead that the incident could teach everyone – on both sides of the debate over homosexuality – about “tolerance” and “diversity.”
In the end, the instructor was disciplined with a “letter of counseling” in his official file. The commander, however, demanded to know from Monk “if you can see discrimination if somebody says that they don’t agree with homosexual marriage.” Monk refused to answer because, “As a matter of conscience I could not answer the question the way the commander wanted me to.” Instead, he “said that perhaps it would be best if he went on leave,” and the commander agreed.
Monk said to Starnes, “I’m told that members of the Air Force don’t have freedom of speech. They don’t have the right to say anything that goes against Air Force policy.” However, if the homosexual Air Force officer involved in this case thinks that “Air Force policy” requires rejecting the policy choice of three quarters of the States to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, she should think again.
But according to Equality Matters:
Try as Starnes might to depict the investigation of Monk as an all-out assault on conservative Christians in the military, it’s clear that Monk’s harsh words for his Air Force superiors may well have breached military regulations on soldiers’ conduct. Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits soldiers from engaging in speech or actions “of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.” Going to the media with unfounded allegations that the Air Force is retaliating against Christians would likely merit an investigation under Article 134.
But Starnes asserted that Monk’s case indicates widespread punishment of Christians in the military. Alas, this claim is based on nothing more than hearsay. An attorney for the Liberty Institute – which has a history of pushing trumped-up, unfounded “religious liberty” cases - told Starnes that “there must be some sort of systemic problem in the Air Force,” while a local pastor told Starnes that he “hear[s] it every Sunday at church” that life at Lackland is becoming “difficult” for Christians.
And according to Media Matters, who reported on the situation and the fact that the Liberty Counsel is taking up Monk’s case:
While Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Monk claims his anti-marriage equality views led him to be relieved of his duties, there’s no evidence, besides the sensationalistic coverage of far-right news outlets, that that’s actually the case. After devoting four minutes to touting the Liberty Institute’s claims, Bream briskly noted that officials at Lackland Air Force Base said Monk was at the end of his assignment. A spokesperson for the base told Fox News Radio’s Todd Starnes that while Monk and his lesbian commander did disagree on marriage equality, they “agreed to disagree,” adding “the wing commander said there was no punishment.”
The one constant in this strange is how the narrative of anti-Christian is being driven by the religious right and conservatives. According to Todd Starnes of Fox News, Monk is now being brought up on charges for repeating his tale.
Of course the irony of Starnes’ story is while the headlines pushes the idea that Christians are being persecuted in the military, it doesn’t even look like Starnes even tried to get the Air Force’s side of the story.
Why should we be surprised at how conservatives and the religious right are pushing this story? It’s a formula we have seen before – take a potential controversy, report on it in a half-assed way, bombard the media with the side of the story you support, and finally take your victory before the truth even has a chance to put on its track shoes.
For folks to engage in this scurrilous propaganda is one thing, but for those who claim to be Christians while engaging in this underhanded tactic is positively nauseating.
Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Randall A. Clinton under Creative Commons license