FORT BRAGG, N.C. — An official with the U.S. Army has rejected the findings of an investigation into a chaplain who declined to lead a marriage retreat after learning that a lesbian had signed up to attend the event with her partner, and will not charge the chaplain with “dereliction of duty” as an investigator had recommended.
“We are grateful that the Army has rejected and abandoned these baseless charges,” said Mike Berry, director of military affairs at First Liberty, which provided legal representation for Chaplain Scott Squires.
“The United States military is no place for anti-religious hostility against its own military chaplains,” he remarked in a statement. “Chaplains like Scott Squires, [and his] assistant Kacie Griffin, do not have to give up their First Amendment rights in order to serve their fellow soldiers.”
As previously reported, 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.
As Squires was prohibited by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) from participating in a retreat that could suggest affirmation of same-sex “marriage,” he concluded that he would have to consequently bow out of the event. Chaplains could lose their ecclesiastical endorsement for leading such a gathering.
“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.
After consulting with his senior chaplain and the woman’s commanding officer, Squires 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.
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 marriage retreat. 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,” wrote investigating officer Maj. Ford (his first name was redacted). “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.”
In a second memorandum, Ford asked that Squires be found “derelict of duty” in the matter. Ford’s report asserted 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 reportedly the same day that the woman threatened to file an EO complaint.
Ford 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. He contended that the matter was 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,” Ford wrote.
“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,” he stated. “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,” Ford said. “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.”
Squires’ attorney, Mike Berry, soon also sent a letter to Rice to contend that Ford’s conclusions were wrong and contradictory.
“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 wrote.
Several members of Congress also urged the Army to clear Squires’ name, according to conservative talk show host Todd Starnes.
“The case of Chaplain Scott Squires highlights how imperative it is that we protect freedom of conscience for every individual in the U.S. military—including the chaplains who minister to them as they carry out the military’s mission together,” Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., said in a statement.
Now, according to First Liberty Institute, the Army has rejected the findings of Ford’s investigation, as well as his recommendation that Squires be found “derelict of duty.”
“I look forward to being able to focus on continuing my career serving my fellow soldiers,” Squires said in a statement, released on Friday.
The NAMB also applauded the outcome of the case.
“Few chaplains have endured the investigative scrutiny that Chaplain Squires suffered over the last seven months,” said Gen. Douglas Carver, executive director of chaplaincy at the NAMB, according to Baptist Press. “We applaud Chaplain Squires and all chaplains like him who remain dedicated to their faith while seeking to respect all persons within the diverse military community.”