The U.S. Army reportedly dismissed a claim that a Baptist-sponsored chaplain failed to execute his duties and effectively discriminated against a same-sex couple when he backed out of serving a military-sponsored marriage retreat.
First Liberty — the law firm representing Chaplain Scott Squires and his assistant, Staff Sgt. Kacie Griffin — expressed gratitude to the Army and argued that its clients shouldn’t have to choose between their liberties and performing their duties as chaplains.
“The United States military is no place for anti-religious hostility against its own military chaplains,” First Liberty’s deputy general counsel, Mike Berry, told the Todd Starnes Radio Show. “Chaplains like Scott Squires and Kacie Griffin do not have to give up their First Amendment rights in order to serve their fellow soldiers.”
Religious Liberty Prevails! @USArmy clears our clients Chaplain Scott Squires and Chaplain Assistant Kacie Griffin of outrageous “Dereliction of Duty” charges for declining to lead a marriage retreat that included a same-sex couple. Read in @toddstarnes https://t.co/0wTOk07Tb5 pic.twitter.com/S4HGcAZf53
— First Liberty (@1stLiberty) August 25, 2018
The dispute emanated from Squires’ decision to postpone a “Strong Bonds” marriage retreat until another date when a different chaplain could facilitate it with the lesbian couple.
According to Fox News, military policy required Squires to follow his sponsor organization’s rules, which prohibited him from facilitating that type of retreat. Squires’ organization — the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board — specifically addressed activities like that:
Endorsed chaplains will not conduct or attend a wedding ceremony for any same-sex couple, bless such a union or perform counseling in support of such a union … nor offer any kind of relationship training or retreat, on or off a military installation.
An Army investigator, however, charged Squires with dereliction of duty because, he said, Squires failed to properly accommodate the lesbian couple as part of his obligations under the military’s equal opportunity rules.
The investigator insisted that Squires was not derelict in his mere refusal to serve the retreat:
“At no time was it my conclusion, nor is it now my conclusion, that CH Squires is in violation of [Equal Opportunity] policy for not hosting a Strong Bond retreat, or any event, that would cause him to violate his endorser restrictions. CH Squires is protected by the ‘shield’ of the 1st Amendment from being compelled to act in violation of his religious beliefs.”
Squires, stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was facing charges that could lead to time in military prison. But according to First Liberty, the Army overlooked critical details that showed Squires made a sufficient effort to follow up after rescheduling the event.
In a letter to the Army, First Liberty argued that Squires not only told the lesbian service member that Strong Bonds events were open to her, he subsequently notified the service member’s commanding officer.
The firm also presented evidence that Squires notified his senior chaplain as well as a statement from another chaplain who claimed Squires was “responsible in his duties the entire time.”
“I simply did what I’m required to do under Army regulations and my endorser’s rules,” Squires said in a statement, according to Fox News. “I am shocked that I would even be investigated, let alone threatened with punishment, for following the rules.”
After the Army’s decision to dismiss his case, Squires said he looked forward to serving his fellow soldiers.
“I am eternally grateful to First Liberty for covering my six and fighting to restore my religious liberty,” he said.
Squires’ case came amid a flurry of legal disputes surrounding religious liberty and sexual orientation discrimination claims. Earlier this year, Masterpiece Cakeshop won its battle against Colorado after the state charged it with discriminating against a same-sex couple seeking a wedding cake from the Christian owner.
While speaking about the task force, Sessions committed to protecting individuals like Masterpiece’s owner and warned about an anti-religious liberty movement afoot in the nation.
According to First Liberty’s deputy general counsel, Jeremy Dys, the task force provided an avenue for DOJ to focus more intensely on religious liberty and directly advise the Department of Defense, among other federal agencies, on religious liberty issues in their ranks.
“You need to have this task force that goes in and meets with the different agency heads and says, ‘Look, this is what the guidance is, and here’s what it means for you,'” Dys previously told IJR.