NORFOLK, Va. — Gov. Terry McAuliffe has vetoed Republican-sponsored legislation that would prohibit state censorship of certain military chaplains’ sermons, a move lobbied for by the American Civil Liberties Union, but disappointing to some social conservatives.
McAuliffe, a Democrat, spiked a bill from GOP Sen. Dick Black of Loudoun County on Thursday, reasoning his SB555 “would seriously undermine the religious freedom of National Guard members by potentially exposing them to sectarian proselytizing.”
McAuliffe’s veto of the bill that would apply to the state-controlled Virginia National Guard and Virginia Defense Force is the second of the governor’s young term. He vetoed a gun rights expansion bill last week.
While military chaplains can minister as they choose at voluntary worship services or unofficial private settings, they don’t “have the right to use official, mandatory events as a platform to disseminate their own religious views,” McAuliffe wrote in a veto letter.
Sen. Bill Carrico sees the veto as a blow against religious freedom, not a protection of it, saying McAuliffe has taken a stand “against any bills protecting individuals’ rights to conscience.”
McAuliffe owes the public an answer as to why he thinks government should control “what they say and what they believe,” said Carrico, a former state trooper who has fought to free Virginia State Police chaplains to offer sectarian prayers.
Recalling that Black’s bill passed the Senate and House of Delegates by margins above the two-thirds veto-proof majority, Carrico, R-Grayson County, said he hopes there are enough votes to override McAuliffe’s veto.
The Family Foundation in an email said the governor denied “good sense and the General Assembly’s voting record” in favor of acquiescing “to the ACLU’s wishes” by vetoing “a commonsense, uncontroversial bill.”
Black said the veto reflects a “sort of unspoken antagonism to Christianity that’s based on gay marriage and abortion,” issues he said can’t be squared with church teachings.
“The thrust is to avoid chaplains saying things that are politically incorrect but biblically sound,” Black said, alleging McAuliffe wants to “control Christian sermons” and has advised National Guard chaplains “ ‘you better not mess with me’?” through his veto.
The veto was warmly received by ACLU of Virginia.
“While purporting to protect the religious freedom of chaplains, this bill would have undermined the religious freedom of service members,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, the group’s executive director. “By vetoing this bill, the governor has ensured that all service members may exercise their religion freely, without coercion.”