TVC Special Report: Military Chaplains Under Threat
 
The threat is real, and the media isn’t talking about it.
 
Over 238 years ago, General George Washington petitioned the Second Continental Congress to institute the military chaplaincy for the fledgling United States Army. On 29 July 1775, Washington introduced the chaplaincy as follows:
 
The Hon. Continental Congress having been pleased to allow a Chaplain to each Regiment, with the pay of Thirty-three Dollars and one third pr month--The Colonels or commanding officers of each regiment are directed to procure Chaplains accordingly; persons of good Characters and exemplary lives--To see that all inferior officers and soldiers pay them a suitable respect and attend carefully upon religious exercises. The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger--The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavour so to live, and act, as becomes a Christian Soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country.
 
Since Washington’s order, federal courts have protected the military chaplaincy as constitutional under both the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause. To doubt the constitutionality and the rights of conscience enshrined in the military chaplaincy would be a total revocation of 238 years of mutual understanding and constitutional law.
 
Today, this understanding is under threat from Barack Obama’s radical assault against the rights of conscience and religious liberty.
 
Right now, thousands of military chaplains are under threat from new regulations that prevent them from speaking out in any way against homosexuality and other sound Biblical teaching.
 
Should our military chaplains be brave enough to preach or counsel one of our men and women in uniform contrary to the desires of the Defense Department, the new regulations repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” can ultimately ruin the careers of these military chaplains, up to and including dishonorable discharge -- all because our chaplains refuse to compromise their consciences!
 
So serious and dire is this threat that over 18 Christian denominations have reached out to Congress and urged them to reverse the Defense Department’s course. Some denominations such as the Catholic Military Archdiocese have threatened to remove all of their military chaplains, should Obama refuse to backtrack on his violations of our religious freedoms.
 

BACKGROUND

In June 2013, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 315-108 with wide bipartisan support.  This support was immediately undermined by the Obama administration, who focused on a number of items disagreeable to the White House.

None of these concerns were more telling or damaging than the outright rejection of religious liberty and conscience protections for our nation's military chaplaincy and the men and women they serve.

The Obama administration made moves to reassure Congress that such language was repetitive and unnecessary.  Yet it the Obama administration's own words regarding the religious liberty and rights of conscience of military chaplains and service members, they reject this basic commitment to religious freedom as "potentially problematic" in their own words:

The Administration strongly objects to section 530, which would require the Armed Forces to accommodate, except in cases of military necessity, “actions and speech” reflecting the “conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the member.” By limiting the discretion of commanders to address potentially problematic speech and actions within their units, this provision would have a significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment.

To date, over 18 different denominations representing the vast majority of mainstream religious traditions including Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Assemblies of God, and evangelicals -- the thriving churches of America -- have announced their concerns about the current Defense Department regulations concerning military chaplains. 

These restrictions on their rights include but are not limited to the right to preach from the pulpit according to the dictates of their faith, their ability to freely counsel and spiritually advise armed services personnel, and will force military chaplains to choose between their conscience and their military careers.

Comments that describe religious liberty and the rights of conscience as "spiritual rape" are precisely the reason conscience protections are critical in the NDAA.  Without them, only the very worst can be implied or assumed given current events -- and more tragically, many service members and military chaplains will feel coerced into choosing between their military careers and their faith.

While formerly, the issue of homosexual marriages had been confined to a few states and barred by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) by federal statute, not only does the recent repeal of DOMA by the U.S. Supreme Court now throw into question the status of America's military chaplains who believe in a definition of marriage, but the U.S. Navy Chief of Chaplains regulations dated May 1, 2011 -- which are on the books but not being enforced -- are openly showing the direction the Obama administration will take if the opportunity presents itself. 

These new regulations will permit the Obama Administration to openly defy federal law, crush the religious liberties of our nation’s military chaplains, and continues to ignore the Defense of Marriage Act. 

This poses additional concerns for the rights of conscience and religious liberties of our U.S. military chaplains, specifically placing those U.S. military chaplains whose faith rejects homosexuality as gravely disordered under direct pressure.  Should a military chaplain refuse to perform such a ceremony or even merely advise a member of our armed services according to the moral precepts of one's faith, it could very well lead to charges of discrimination, court martial, and even dishonorable discharge -- all for being forced to choose between faith and service.

The litany of these abuses is already legion within America's military. Just a handful of the abuses of the rights of religious freedom among service members are:

  • The Air Force censored a video created by a chaplain because it include the word “God.” The Air Force feared the word might offend Muslims and atheists.
  • A service member received a “severe and possibly career-ending reprimand” for expressing his faith’s religious position about homosexuality in a personal religious blog.
  • A senior military official at Fort Campbell sent out a lengthy email officially instructing officers to recognize “the religious right in America” as a “domestic hate group” akin to the KKK and Neo-Nazis because of its opposition to homosexual behavior.
  • A chaplain was relieved of his command over a military chapel because, consistent with DOMA’s definition of marriage, he could not allow same-sex weddings to take place in the chapel.

It is equally important to keep in mind that this implementation allowing gays and ultimately transgenders to openly serve in the U.S. armed services was passed by a lame duck Congress, one whose vision and leadership were repudiated by the American people.  Such a repudiation is now being enforced by extraordinary means -- namely the executive branch and the federal courts -- to impose a worldview that is at variance with the soldiers, airmen, and midshipmen who serve our country.

When the Defense Department originally “sold” this new Obama Administration policy to the Congress, it was assured the effort to allow gays and transgenders to serve would not threaten either the military readiness of our armed services, nor the rights of conscience and religious liberties of our chaplains.  Nor would it be used as a tool for social experimentation.  Nor would it affect military readiness.  Nor would it be forced upon the military.  Nor would any of the concerns raised by military chaplains go unheeded or unanswered. 

These promises have been largely sidestepped.  Or worse, they have been ignored.

The military chaplaincy is much older than the U.S. Constitution.  The Second Continental Congress, at the request of then-General George Washington, specifically requested the military chaplaincy for the fledgling United States Army, a request granted on July 29th, 1775.  Washington introduced the chaplaincy into the United States Army as follows:

The Hon. Continental Congress having been pleased to allow a Chaplain to each Regiment, with the pay of Thirty-three Dollars and one third pr month--The Colonels or commanding officers of each regiment are directed to procure Chaplains accordingly; persons of good Characters and exemplary lives--To see that all inferior officers and soldiers pay them a suitable respect and attend carefully upon religious exercises. The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger--The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavour so to live, and act, as becomes a Christian Soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country.

Since Washington’s order, federal courts have protected the military chaplaincy as constitutional under both the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause.  To doubt the constitutionality and the rights of conscience enshrined in the military chaplaincy would be a total revocation of 237 years of mutual understanding and constitutional law.

THE CURRENT THREAT

The newest version of the NDAA is expected to be brought before Congress in December 2013.  In this iteration, two new amendments have been proffered in both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate.  The effective amendments will:

1.  Strengthen existing law so that the rights of conscience of military service members are protected and their expressions of religious faith in an appropriate manner are not discriminated against or subject to retaliation.  Rep. John Fleming’s (R-LA) corresponding amendment in the House has elicited a veto threat from the White House. 

2.  Instruct the Defense Department Inspector General to investigate reports of religious discrimination against troops who share their religious beliefs and also investigate any undue influence outside groups exert over Pentagon policy on religious matters. An anonymous survey would be mandated determining whether the Pentagon is preventing chaplains from doing their jobs or forcing them to perform actions that violate their consciences.

Yet the June 2013 threat from the Obama White House still remains in effect.  

Fortunately there is good case law protecting our military chaplains and their rights of conscience:

Fortunately, there already is some case law in favor of the good guys. In 1996 a Catholic Air Force Reserve chaplain, Father Vincent Rigdon, sued the Clinton administration. They had forbidden him and all Catholic chaplains from following the directives of the U.S. bishops to ask all Catholics to write Congress in support of the partial-birth abortion ban they had passed, asking them to override President Clinton’s veto. Father Rigdon, joined in the lawsuit by a Jewish chaplain, the Muslim American Military Association, and a Catholic Navy chaplain, won.

Judge Stanley Sporkin of the D.C. Circuit Court noted that chaplains have “rank without a command.” They can order a private to pray a rosary, but the private’s noncompliance does not result in disciplinary action.

Sporkin wrote, “What we have here is the government’s attempt to override the Constitution and the laws of the land by a directive that clearly interferes with military chaplains’ free-exercise and free-speech rights, as well as those of their congregants.”

However, recent attempts by the Obama administration to classify military chaplains as "social workers" are in play.  In effect, this would civilianize the military chaplaincy in an effort to dismantle the institution, effectively destroying George Washington's institution and turning it into a psychological ward.

In August 2013, the U.S. Army categorized Catholics, Mormons, evangelical Christians and Jews as potential "religious extremists" comparable to Al Qaeda or the Ku Klux Klan.  Such instances, though not entirely representative of our nation's military, serve their purpose to chill and arrest free expression and freedom of religion within our nation's armed services.

THE SOLUTION

The religious liberty and conscience protections embedded in the current version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) defend what is already sound case law at the U.S. Supreme Court -- namely that a member of our armed services has the unmitigated right to spiritual consolation while serving our nation, and not in the prefabricated and politically-correct mold determined by bureaucrats in Washington. 

To doubt the constitutionality and the rights of conscience enshrined in the military chaplaincy would be a total revocation of 238 years of mutual understanding and constitutional law.  Congress has a duty to pass legislation reinforcing these rights, and President Obama should sign these protections into law immediately.