A column getting some attention is another “ending DADT means chaplains will be tossed out the military if they preach against the gays” argument, made by conservative columnist Terry Mattingly. He discusses it at his blog, GetReligion.
The column is a good jumping off point to raise some journalism questions about how this niche issue should be covered by the larger media. It’s fair to say that concerns over chaplains is pretty low on the list of concerns over DADT, which is probably a good jumping-off point in understanding why the issue plays a role in the opposition to repeal. So here’s the questions I have.
– What rules cover chaplains? Are they covered by the Code of Military Justice in terms of their interactions with fellow servicemembers? Understanding that servicemembers give up many of their free speech rights, how does that extend to religious speech?
– The old canard “hate speech”raises its head. To be clear, there are no “hate speech” codes and laws in the U.S. There are “hate crimes” laws and “fighting words” are a factor in First Amendment analysis, but “hate speech” is not a concept found in U.S. law. So what are people talking about when they use the term? Is it a “dog whistle” term meant to attract attention? Press people who toss that term around to give specifics in the U.S.
– In examining the issue, ask larger contextual questions. In balancing the “rights” of servicemembers and chaplains, where should that balance end up? Ask activists to balance out those burdens.
– Are the fears of chaplains getting kicked out based on reality? What are the regulations? Move beyond hypotheticals and “in Europe” and “in Canada” arguments and focus on the specifics of the regulations.
– Are chaplains really clamoring for keeping DADT? Beyond the infamous letter from retired conservative chaplains, what are other chaplains saying? Are there chaplains who support repeal? Are there chaplains who don’t believe their “rights’ are jeopardized? How do they view the complaints of activists? What do First Amendment church/state scholars saying about the conflict?
What other questions should journalists committed to fair and accurate coverage be asking?