When President Obama signed the much-ballyhooed NDAA into law, he also issued a “signing statement,” a fairly recent presidential practice that explains the Executive Branch take on the Legislative Branch’s work. The President’s signing statement notes the Constitution only allows the President to accept or reject the bill as a whole, but he still objects to some provisions.
The New York Times notes he took issue with restrictions on the transfer of Guantanamo detainees, and several sites highlighted his consternation over Section 533, previously described as containing ‘religious liberty protections.’ The Section was a compromise between the House and Senate and had been opposed by atheists and the ACLU. The White House had previously objected. President Obama said:
Section 533 is an unnecessary and ill-advised provision, as the military already appropriately protects the freedom of conscience of chaplains and service members. The Secretary of Defense will ensure that the implementing regulations do not permit or condone discriminatory actions that compromise good order and discipline or otherwise violate military codes of conduct. My Administration remains fully committed to continuing the successful implementation of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and to protecting the rights of gay and lesbian service members; Section 533 will not alter that.
The statement does not say the President will not enforce the law; it says when the Executive Branch creates implementing regulations, as required by the same law, those regulations will “not permit or condone” discrimination. Notably, the President specifically called out DADT and homosexuality, which was not mentioned in the section but had been an impetus of the House version of the bill.
By the ‘letter of the law,’ the statement could be foreboding, since a Chaplain who declined to perform a homosexual ceremony because of his objections to the lifestyle could be accused of “discriminatory actions” that violated the “rights” of homosexuals. Based on current policies, it is unlikely that is an intended outcome.
The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty called on the President to “honor [the] religious liberty provisions.”