US De­fense Sec­re­tary de­lays a plan for trans­gen­der re­cruits

Bill tar­gets law aimed at keeping pol­i­tics out of churches

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis has de­layed a plan by Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion to start ac­cept­ing trans­gen­der re­cruits in the mil­i­tary, the Pen­tagon said. The de­ci­sion to de­lay the plan for six months was made on the eve of a dead­line set by Mat­tis’s pre­de­ces­sor, Ash­ton Carter, dur­ing Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. The five armed ser­vice branches can now de­lay ac­cept­ing trans­gen­der re­cruits un­til Jan­uary 1 as they “re­view their ac­ces­sion plans and pro­vide in­put on the im­pact to the readi­ness and lethal­ity of our forces,” Pen­tagon spokes­woman Dana White said in a state­ment.

Last week, White ex­plained that the dif­fer­ent ser­vices were not in agree­ment on when to ac­cept trans­gen­der re­cruits. “The ser­vice chiefs all had to give their what needed-to-be-done time­frames” for in­te­grat­ing trans­gen­der troops, she told re­porters. “Dif­fer­ent ser­vices had dif­fer­ent takes. Some asked for time... there were all kinds of dif­fer­ent rec­om­men­da­tions.” An es­ti­mated 2,500 to 7,000 trans­gen­der peo­ple are among the 1.3 mil­lion ac­tive duty ser­vice mem­bers. But these are troops who could not make their sex­ual pref­er­ences openly known prior to join­ing the mil­i­tary. Un­til a year ago, they could be fired for openly ex­press­ing their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. “We have rea­son to be proud to­day of what this will mean for our mil­i­tary be­cause it’s the right thing to do, and it’s an­other step in en­sur­ing that we con­tinue to re­cruit and re­tain the most qual­i­fied peo­ple - and good peo­ple are the key to the best mil­i­tary in the world,” Carter said last year. “Our mil­i­tary, and the na­tion it de­fends, will be stronger.

Pol­i­tick­ing from the pul­pit

Mean­while, House Repub­li­cans tar­get­ing a law that pro­hibits such out­right pol­i­tick­ing from the pul­pit said that Churches should have the right to en­dorse po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates and still keep their tax-free sta­tus. Repub­li­cans re­peat­edly have failed to scrap the law pre­vent­ing churches and other non­prof­its from back­ing can­di­dates, so now they are try­ing to starve it. With lit­tle fan­fare, a House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions sub­com­mit­tee added a pro­vi­sion that would deny money to the IRS to en­force the 63-year-old law to a bill to fund the Treasury Depart­ment, Se­cu­ri­ties and Ex­change Com­mis­sion and other agen­cies.

The sub­com­mit­tee passed the bill Thurs­day. Repub­li­cans say the law is en­forced un­evenly, leav­ing re­li­gious lead­ers uncer­tain about what they are al­lowed to say and do. “I be­lieve that churches have a right of free speech and an op­por­tu­nity to talk about po­si­tions and is­sues that are rel­e­vant to their faith,” said Rep. Jim Re­nacci, R-Ohio. Some Democrats say the mea­sure comes too close to mix­ing church and state. They say re­li­gious lead­ers al­ready have First Amend­ment rights, just like any­one else. But if they want to get po­lit­i­cal, they don’t have a con­sti­tu­tional right not to pay taxes.

Some also worry that the mea­sure could up­end the sys­tem of cam­paign fi­nanc­ing by al­low­ing churches to use their tax-free sta­tus to fun­nel money to po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., re­called a speech that Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy gave to re­li­gious lead­ers when he was run­ning for pres­i­dent. “He said the pope wouldn’t tell him what to do, and the peo­ple in that au­di­ence shouldn’t be telling peo­ple on Sun­day morn­ing who to vote for,” Neal said. “I don’t think churches should be en­dors­ing.”

Many non­profit groups want to avoid pol­i­tics. In April, 4,500 non­profit groups signed onto a let­ter to con­gres­sional lead­ers ask­ing them to pre­serve the law. The law pro­hibits tax-ex­empt char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tions such as churches from par­tic­i­pat­ing di­rectly or in­di­rectly in any po­lit­i­cal cam­paign to sup­port or op­pose a can­di­date. If the IRS de­ter­mines that a group has vi­o­lated the law, it can re­voke its tax-ex­empt sta­tus. The law doesn’t stop re­li­gious groups from weigh­ing in on pub­lic pol­icy or or­ga­niz­ing in ways that may ben­e­fit one side in a cam­paign.

The bill specif­i­cally for­bids the IRS from spend­ing money to en­force the law against “a church, or a con­ven­tion or as­so­ci­a­tion of churches,” un­less the IRS com­mis­sioner signs off on it and no­ti­fies Congress. The bill doesn’t men­tion other types of non­profit groups, or even syn­a­gogues or mosques, said Nick Lit­tle of the Cen­ter for Inquiry, which pro­motes sec­u­lar­ism. “All they care about is the Chris­tian groups, and in par­tic­u­lar, it will end up as the ex­treme re­li­gious right Chris­tian groups,” Lit­tle said. “If this goes through, this would add just an­other way in which un­reg­u­lated dark money could be used.”

Re­li­gious lead­ers have been weigh­ing in on po­lit­i­cal is­sues for gen­er­a­tions, whether it’s the de­bate over abor­tion or ad­vo­cat­ing for the poor. But pe­ri­od­i­cally, the IRS has stepped in when re­li­gious lead­ers ex­plic­itly en­dorse or op­pose can­di­dates. The law is called the John­son Amend­ment af­ter for­mer Pres­i­dent Lyn­don John­son, who in­tro­duced it in 1954 when he was a Demo­cratic se­na­tor from Texas. — AP


WASH­ING­TON: US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son (left), US Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence (cen­ter), and US Sec­re­tary of De­fense James Mat­tis speak be­fore US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in give joint state­ments in the Rose Gar­den at the White House in Wash­ing­ton, DC, on June 30, 2017.

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