President Donald Trump will reportedly nominate Mark Green, a Tennessee state senator, physician, and West Point graduate (who had recently announced he would run for governor), as the next secretary of the Army. Green, a Tea Party conservative known as a quietly calculating champion of anti-LGBTQ policies, would replace Obama appointee Eric Fanning, the first openly gay U.S. Army secretary in history.
Green is a dangerous figure both because his policies are extreme and because he is shrewd at portraying them as moderate. He works in lockstep with social conservatives who have learned in recent years how to avoid both the wrath of the public and the jaws of justice using Orwellian word games to invert their bigotry, casting themselves as victims instead of discriminators.
In his four years as a state senator, Green has pushed several ultra-conservative bills that, while recognized by close observers to be specifically designed to allow religious discrimination against women and LGBTQ people, make no mention of that goal in their language. One of the most alarming, SB 127, echoes the disastrous North Carolina law that was fake-repealed on Friday and whose fallout has cost that state hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic activity. The Tennessee bill, of which Green is lead sponsor, would bar all local governments from considering a company’s discriminatory practices when making decisions about whether to do business with them. It applies to public universities, many of which may now be forced to violate their own nondiscrimination policies.
While the bill is clearly designed to allow conservative religious businesses to discriminate with impunity—a Georgia lawmaker pushing a related religious exemptions measure went off-script and spilled the beans that the entire “purpose of the bill” was to protect religious discriminators—the Tennessee bill never says so directly, opting instead to protect companies based on the vague but sweeping “internal policies of the business entity.” In fact, the law views any effort by municipalities or universities to avoid contracting with anti-LGBTQ businesses as, itself, a “discriminatory action.”
But according to the Human Rights Campaign, the law’s reach is sweeping, and could force taxpayers to subsidize companies that discriminate against not just LGBTQ people but pregnant women, veterans, youth, the elderly, single parents—virtually anyone a private business decides not to serve for nearly any reason.
SB 127 is hardly the only extremist bill Green has pushed while a Tennessee senator. He is also a co-sponsor of a divisive bill that—again echoing the infamous law in North Carolina—would effectively bar transgender high school and college students from using public bathrooms by forcing them to only use restrooms that match the gender on their birth certificate.
Green is also lead sponsor of another “license to discriminate bill” which—again using nondescript language—would grant all educators the right to opt out of teaching anything that’s not “consistent with the educator’s own conscience.” And he backed a bill that would let mental health practitioners refuse to treat LGBTQ people. As a physician, he argued, he is permitted to deny patients the morning-after pill based on his religious beliefs: “This amendment allows another medical profession—therapists and psychologists and psychiatrists—to do the same thing.” Clearly the strategy is to continue exempting as many groups as possible from nondiscrimination measures until they’re rendered meaningless.
Green insists his “conscience” bills have nothing to do with bigotry, but are simply necessary to achieve statewide consistency in how the law is applied. When it comes to “personnel and employee benefit issues,” he explained, “we at the state are going to set what those are, and local communities cannot go beyond state law.”
It’s an ironic—indeed hypocritical—position for a lawmaker who complains on his website of “the federal government’s constant attack on Tennessee’s 10th Amendment rights”—that is, someone who values local control, except when localities seek to protect the rights of the vulnerable.
While barring transgender people from a freedom as basic as going to the bathroom, Green wants businesses, educators, therapists, doctors—and no doubt more—to be able to literally make up their own set of rules, treading the path toward anarchy, simply because their belief systems reject the principle of equal treatment.
It’s difficult to see how someone with such radical views about individuals following their own whims could be well-suited to run the U.S. Army, which prizes merit and group cohesion above the biases or whims of the individual. Research on military leadership has long shown that having a single standard of rules that apply broadly to all members is critical to operational effectiveness. Carving out allowances for religious conservatives to make up their own rules in the military would be a clear path to undermining the discipline and cohesion on which effective fighting forces depend.
The Army will not be well-served by the leadership of someone who values the right to discriminate over the practical requisites of leading a large, diverse and cohesive institution. If Green is the nominee, the Senate should ask sharp questions about whether he could ever transcend his narrow understanding of “conscience” and instead demonstrate the true leadership that the Army and this nation deserve.