Monday, September 2, 2013

Dispatches From The Wall Of Separation: Military Proselytizing & Ex-Gay Therapy

Being an atheist, I am deeply concerned about issues related to secularism. I recently asked a conservative Christian blogger if he could name a few issues regarding secularism and religious freedom that concerned him and I told him that I would write about them. So the two issues he came up with are the issue of the US military threatening servicemen with a court martial if they talk about their faith, and the recent law passed in the state of New Jersey criminalizing therapy for minors even when they want to resist same sex attraction. So let's take a look at these issues in relation to the separation of church and state.

Issue # 1 - the US military is planning to court martial service members for publicly sharing their faith. 

According to two reports from Fox News (the most fair & balanced name in news by the way) and from, I was astonished to read that they said the military is considering a policy that will court martial service members who publicly professes their faith in any context, even in private conversations among friends. This would presumably also apply to military chaplains, pretty much preventing them from performing their job. But this seemed too outrageous to be true. And I've had several close friends who were in the military and they all said that military proselytizing is rampant. 

So I looked around further, and according to, the Fox News report was a sham. It took a statement from the military out of context and sensationalized it, no doubt to appeal to conservative anti-Obama viewers just looking for a reason to validate their fears that he's really a secret Muslim who hates Christians. According to Factcheck:

The Pentagon merely restated its long-held policy that military members can “share their faith (evangelize)” but “not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others … to one’s beliefs (proselytization)."

They also reported that a Pentagon spokesperson named Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen clarified the initial report after the Fox News fuck up saying, "If a service member harasses another member on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, then the commander takes action based on the gravity of the occurrence. Likewise, when religious harassment complaints are reported, commanders take action based on the gravity of the occurrence on a case by case basis."

So it is not the case that the mere mention of one's religious faith gets one court martialed, one has to essentially harass another service member with their religion for any action to be taken. And even then such instances are handled on a "case-by-case" basis. So the concerns of the Christian blogger are likely based prematurely on a misinformed news source.

The problem in the military for the most part, is too much proselytizing. Service members are routinely coerced into religious indoctrination, and I know from first hand accounts of friends I've had who joined the Army. The military's rules prohibiting the "unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith" is perfectly justified for personnel on the job. Interestingly, the rule also applies to atheists or any non-believers who might aggressively push "no faith." So no Christians are being unfairly targeted here and all this hoopla appears to be another lie by Christians with persecution complexes.

Now if a service member wants join a church or volunteer for one on their free time when they are off duty and out of uniform and preach to their heart's content about any religion, that's their business.

Read more from about the policy.

Issue # 2 - New Jersey's recent bill criminalizing ex-gay therapy to minors. has quoted New Jersey governor Chris Christie as saying: 

The American Psychological Association has found that efforts to change sexual orientations can pose critical health risks including, but not limited to, depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem and suicidal thoughts. I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate.

Seems reasonable for a republican like Christie right? The science behind gay therapy does not look favorable. All the data we have shows that sexual orientation is biological, and not a choice. Conservative Christians will never accept this for theological reasons, because they have to believe homosexuality is a choice in order for them to believe that god would never make someone born gay. But the science is not on their side, and the issue here is the science. 

According to a survey from, a site "for those who have survived ex-gay experiences," there is heavy documentation that ex-gay therapy by and large harms those who experienced it at least "a little" by as much as 92.5 %. I have not heard any positive news about the results of ex-gay therapy, that's why it appears that there are several states in the queue looking to have this kind of therapy banned for minors. Even the president of Exodus International, Alan Chambers, which is one of the oldest and largest ex-gay therapy providers, recently renounced the therapy and admitted that virtually every "ex-gay" he has ever met still has homosexual desires, including himself, according to a New York Times report.

But the issue I want to address is the banning of ex-gay therapy for minors in relation to secularism. Is this a church/state issue? Ex-gay therapy in America is largely, if not exclusively, theologically based and run by Christians. And there are many Christians out there who still believe being gay is a choice, that can be changed through therapy. The problem they have to face, is that the results of ex-gay therapy is simply not promising, and they don't have any good scientific data on their side. Theists need to be able to make a good, scientific case that 1) being gay is a choice, and that 2) ex-gay therapy is not psychologically harmful to participants and 3) that it's demonstrably capable of achieving it's goal. So far they've failed, and that's why more and more states are considering banning it. 

I don't think this is even a major church/state issue at all. It's about whether or not ex-gay therapy works and whether it causes harm. If something has been shown to cause harm while at the same time not shown itself to even work, then legislators are justified in banning it for minors who are most vulnerable. No one is banning it entirely. Adults can still partake in this therapy if they want to. But vulnerable minors should not be forced to endure therapy (which may include things like electro-shock therapy to the genitals), because their parents want or force them to. And that holds true even if the children want ex-gay therapy themselves, because they will most likely be motivated by a coercion that stems from their conservative family.

The bottom line is this: Ex-gay therapy has been shown to be psychologically harmful and ineffective, and that justifies laws preventing minors from being exposed to it. If a minor wanted to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and watch pornography, would we let them just because they wanted to? We wouldn't, because we know that those things can harm them at an age when they're not old or mature enough to deal with the possible consequences.

You can surely expect state by state to follow California and New Jersey in the years to come.

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