Do military rites shave civil rights?

HUP two, three, four. Your civil rights go out the door! Is that really true? When one sheds his or her civvies and dons Army khakis or Air Force blue, do constitutional protections fly off to the wild blue yonder?

Of course not. But there's no question that they can be lessened.

Soldiers must be tough - disciplined, loyal to the core - and corps. Semper paratus. Semper fidelis.

This is not summer camp. The security of the nation is at stake. Individual wants must yield to the needs of the group.

But ... how far should this go? In all circumstances, do military ends justify uncivil means?

Perry Watkins, Kathleen Mazure, and James Stanley found out. They tested the system in different ways - because the system tested them. Stanley lost. Mazure won, at least conditionally. And the plight of Watkins is yet undetermined.

Sergeant Watkins was acknowledged to be an exemplary soldier, a career man, loyal to the service. But the Army threw him out - or at least it wouldn't let him reenlist - because he is a homosexual.

A change in Army regulations in 1981 requires that all homosexuals be barred from military service. Previously, a person could be discharged only after homosexual activity had been proved.

Government sources say that about 1,400 men and women are dismissed annually on these grounds.

Perry Watkins never pretended to be anything but what he was. He was never charged with solicitation. There is not even a claim that he was sexually active. In 1984, while he was a supervisor in personnel administration at Fort Lewis, Wash., however, he was denied reenlistment.

Watkins challenged his dismissal. And a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld his claim. Judge William Norris, writing for the court's 2-to-1 majority, said the Army's ban on homosexuals violated Watkins's constitutional guarantee to ``equal protection'' under the law.

Similar to rules that discriminate on the basis of race, the Army's rejection of homosexuals ``cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny absent a compelling governmental justification,'' Judge Norris said.

Prodded by the Reagan administration, this case is now being reviewed by a larger Ninth Circuit panel of judges. It could well end up in the US Supreme Court.

Kathleen Mazure had a different ``military'' problem - a heterosexual affair of the heart. This young Navy lieutenant was threatened with court-martial because she was socially involved with, and later married, a Marine Corps corporal.

The military frowns on fraternization between officers and enlisted personnel.

A US Marine spokesman, Chief Warrant Officer Doug Hauth, said that intimate contact between the two was considered a serious violation of military law, because the relationship posed ``a threat to good order and discipline within the armed forces.''

CWO Hauth added: ``She was an officer. He was enlisted. That's the key. It gives the appearance of familiarity and lack of respect.''

Ultimately the charges against Mazure were dropped when it was learned that she had no idea that her romance with the marine violated military law.

Civil rights advocates say this case points up the need to clarify, and perhaps revise, fraternization policy within the armed forces.

James Stanley's beef with the Army was drug-related - and longstanding.

The Supreme Court last term ruled against former Sergeant Stanley, who sued the Army for damages incurred from LSD experiments conducted on him 30 years ago. Stanley said he was an unwitting subject who later experienced hallucinations, memory loss, and violent behavior that eventually wrecked his marriage.

The high court said, however, that he had no right to compensation even if his allegations were true.

Writing for the court's 5-to-4 majority, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia cited a series of precedents protecting the military and its officials from liability for illegally injuring military personnel.

Associate Justice William Brennan in a passionate dissent pointed out that the government was treating thousands of its citizens ``as though they were laboratory animals, dosing them with [a] dangerous drug without their consent.''

Justice Brennan added that if the court insisted on subordinating constitutional protections of individuals to ``military discipline,'' soldiers ``ought not be asked to defend a Constitution indifferent to their essential human dignity.''

In a separate dissent, Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor allowed that generally the government should be protected from lawsuits by military personnel. She suggested, however, that the drugging of soldiers without their permission went so ``far beyond the bonds of human decency'' that it couldn't be considered a part of military discipline.

A Thursday column

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