FORT BRAGG, N.C. — An investigator with the U.S. Army has recommended that a Southern Baptist Army chaplain be found “derelict in his duties” surrounding a matter in which he declined to lead a marriage retreat after learning that a lesbian had signed up to attend the event with her partner. The investigator argues that the chaplain, who rescheduled the event so that another chaplain could lead it, took too long to act in the matter and only did so after being threatened with an official complaint. The woman did not end up participating after all.
“I recommend that you [Commander Col. William Rice] find C.H. Squires in violation of the EO (equal opportunity) policy. I recommend that you issue an administrative or non-judicial punishment consistent with the violation,” wrote investigating officer Maj. Ford, whose full name was redacted in the new Aug. 1 “Findings and Recommendations Memorandum”, as released by the First Liberty Institute.
“Even if you find that CH Squires did not violate EO policy, I recommend that you find CH Squires derelict in his duties as a commissioned officer and a chaplain …,” Ford wrote.
As previously reported, Chaplain Scott Squires had been asked to lead the “Strong Bonds” Army-sponsored marriage retreat this past February, and he initially obliged. However, two weeks before the event, a woman asked if there were available slots for her and her partner to attend.
Squires consequently outlined that he would have to personally bow out of the event as he was prohibited by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) from participating in a retreat that could suggest affirmation of same-sex “marriage.”
After consulting with his senior chaplain and the woman’s commanding officer, he moved the date of the event so another chaplain could lead the retreat instead, as well as to accommodate the two women, so that they could attend as desired.
The NAMB of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) specifically prohibits its chaplains from participating in any same-sex “wedding” or retreat that would seemingly affirm homosexual relationships. Chaplains could lose their ecclesiastical endorsement for doing so.
“In harmony with holy Scripture, NAMB 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, assist or support paid contractors or volunteers leading same-sex relational events, nor offer any kind of relationship training or retreat, on or off a military installation, that would give the appearance of accepting the homosexual lifestyle or sexual wrongdoing,” the NAMB guidelines state.
However, the female soldier soon filed a equal opportunity complaint against Squires for not allowing her and her partner to be in the originally-planned event. The Army investigated and concluded that Squires had discriminated against the women.
“The Army EO policy states that no service will be denied to any member of the Armed Service regardless of race, color, national origin, gender, religious affiliation, or sexual orientation,” Ford wrote. “C.H. Squires behaved as if his NAMB restrictions superseded [the soldier’s] right to attend the event. C.H. Squires should be reprimanded for his failure to include [the soldier] in the initial Strong Bonds Retreat.”
Now, in a new memorandum, Ford has asked that Squires be found “derelict of duty” in the matter. Ford’s report asserts that Squires did not make sufficient attempts to let the woman know he wanted to meet with her following her inquiry, and that after he was able to connect with her days later, he waited six days to contact another chaplain about leading the retreat instead—which was the same day that the woman threatened to file an EO complaint.
It further argues that Squires failed to notify his chain of command about the matter, or at least not until after he spoke with the woman personally and was faced with a threat.
“[H]e was in was in violation of AR 165-1 when he failed to notify the command who was responsible for this event of the potential conflict, and when he failed to notify his technical chain of command regarding a soldier in need of services that he was unable to perform,” the memo asserts.
Ford contends that the matter is therefore not a religious liberty issue, but rather a situation where Squires deliberately avoided accommodating a woman because of her sexuality.
“At no time was it my conclusion, nor is it now my conclusion, that C.H. Squires is in violation of EO policy for not hosting a Strong Bonds retreat, or any event that would cause him to violate his endorser restrictions. C.H. Squires is protected by the ‘shield’ of the First Amendment from being compelled to act in violation of his religious rules and beliefs,” he writes.
“However, the ‘shield’ that is afforded to C.H. Squires does not permit C.H. Squires, or any soldier, to use the shield as a “sword” to cut off the rights of another,” Ford states. “C.H. Squires took no action to ensure [the woman’s] right [to attend] was respected until speaking to [a superior] who advised him to do so.”
“Instead of two rights conflicting, this is a case where C.H. Squires intentionally violated the Army EO policy, making no efforts until after an EO complaint was threatened to accommodate a soldier whom he was required to provide services for.”
However, Squires’ attorney, Mike Berry of the Texas-based First Liberty Institute, opines in a response letter that the Army investigator’s conclusions don’t add up.
“Maj. Ford contradicted himself multiple times throughout the report of investigation. First, Maj. Ford concluded that C.H. Squires ‘unintentionally’ discriminated against [the woman]. However, he then concluded that C.H. Squires ‘knowingly’ discriminated against her,” Berry’s letter to Commander Rice states. “One cannot unintentionally and knowingly discriminate at the same time.”
“In addition, Maj. Ford acknowledged that C.H. Squires notified his senior chaplain. But he later alleged that C.H. Squires failed to notify his senior chaplain. Again, both assertions cannot be simultaneously true,” he contends.
Berry also explains that Squires did seek to speak to the woman face-to-face the very day that she expressed interest in attending, and traveled to her unit on a daily basis for several days in an attempt to see her, but wasn’t able to connect with the soldier until five days (three working days) later because she was absent.
Ford had argued that Squires should have emailed the woman or sought other ways to get word to her about the desired meeting, and that he should have contacted the senior chaplain right away once he realized there was a conflict of conscience.
“Contrary to Maj. Ford’s claim, [the woman] was never ‘denied the opportunity to attend a Strong Bonds retreat.’ Rather, C.H. Squires followed the expectations of his endorsing agency and DOD regulations by rescheduling the Strong Bonds event in order to ensure [the woman] and her spouse could attend. [The woman], for reasons unknown and either unexplained or unexplored by Maj. Ford, made the decision not to attend,” Berry’s letter argues.
First Liberty Institute is asking that the Army disapprove the investigator’s conclusion and unsubstantiate the equal opportunity complaint filed against Squires.