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Is the Constitutionality of Military Chaplaincy in Danger?

This week, I received an email from an organization I track, known as the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.  It is an organization that advocates both legally and in the media, for the protection of the Free Exercise of Religion in the military, often with more passion than restraint. Yet, over the last few years that I have read their press releases, legal briefs, and articles, I have been amazed at the amount of restraint they have shown in not directly targeting the behavior of military chaplains.

I know that many of my chaplain colleagues would not see MRFF as operating with restraint, but I could see it.  With the closeness with which they have tracked and spoken out about military commanders using their authority to promote particular religions, and with the way they have advocated for people of minority religions (and the non-religious) who have been discriminated against (and sometimes verbally and physically abused), I knew that MRFF had to be receiving complaints on the actions of some military chaplains.  Probably many times many complaints.

Now, let me just say that I believe that most military chaplains fully understand, respect, and agree that their role in the military is primarily the protection of the free exercise of religion.  Most military chaplains do that job well, balancing the expectations of their endorsing denominations with the need to serve in one of the most pluralistic ministries one can be called to.  Though some face pressure from their endorsers to proselytize, many resist that pressure in order to meet the necessities of the role of the military chaplain, and to be true to the oath that they took to “support and defend the constitution, against all enemies, foreign and domestic”.

And… it is not true of all military chaplains.  Some chaplains that I have met, and others I know of through soldiers, have used their authority and access as military chaplains to advocate for their faith.  They have at times discriminated against soldiers of minority faith traditions, as well as soldiers who are Lesbian, Gay, or Bi-sexual (discrimination now allowed officially in the DADT repeal policy*).  Some chaplains I have spoken with have blatantly told me that their reason for serving was to proselytize for their faith tradition, and that they did not feel bound to their oath to the constitution because their faith was “a higher law”.

Under a Federal Court decision known as Katkoff v. Marsh, military chaplaincy remains constitutional only if the primary role of the military chaplain is the protection of the free exercise of religion in the military.  Now, all of the training that a military chaplain receives reinforces this… and even directly says that proselytization by a military chaplain is against regulations.  This decision was made by a U.S. Court of Appeals, and though it is the law, it could still be challenged in two ways.  It could be appealed to the Supreme Court, or a new case could be filed claiming that the military chaplaincy is failing to make protecting the free exercise of religion its primary mission.

Knowing what I know of some of my military chaplain colleagues, and knowing how closely the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has been tracking the behavior of commanders and others in positions of military authority proselytizing for their faith, I just knew that MRFF has received thousands of complaints of chaplains for whom the protection of the free exercise of religion is not their primary mission in this “mission field” of the U.S. Military.

And yet, they have been amazingly restrained.  Where a memo recommending a religious concert by a commanding officer would launch MRFF into a blitz of media interviews and legal briefs, the organization seems to have been keeping much of what they have heard about military chaplains more confidential.  Now, that is not entirely true… when a Chaplain was less than helpful after an Atheist solder was threatened while deployed, they did mention it in their media contacts.   They also have been very critical of a few senior command Chaplains, such as the Command Chaplain at the Air Force Academy.  They have called out some anti-Semitic teachings by Chaplains at Ft. Leavenworth.  They even have focused on the blurring of the line between evangelism and proselytization throughout the Corps.  Though I don’t know for certain, I suspect that the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has for years been in contact with the offices of the different military branch’s Chiefs of Chaplains about the concerns that are being raised.

But these mentions have been the exception, not the rule… and I know that with the stories of chaplains that come to me, even when I’m not looking, because soldiers read my articles here at Celestial Lands, I knew that MRFF had to be receiving literally thousands of complaints.

This is something that the Military Religious Freedom Foundation confirmed, perhaps inadvertently, last week.  What they also confirmed for me, perhaps also inadvertently, was that they have indeed been showing remarkable restraint where the different service’s Military Chaplain Corps are concerned.

Last week, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation announced their “Bad Chaplain” awards.  They named two chaplains, one the senior chaplain at the Air Force Academy (again, sigh) and the other the Command Chaplain for the Army’s 1st Recruiting Brigade.  While neither of the cases that were named in the “Bad Chaplain” award were surprising to me, what was surprising was that MRFF has finally moved into targeting Chaplains specifically… and that realization made my heart sink.

I believe that the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and a few other organizations have showed restraint in going after the excesses of some military chaplains because they have been giving the different military chaplain corps the chance to get their houses in order.  MRFF has shown the restraint it has shown because I believe they see the value in having military chaplains, dedicated to protecting the free exercise of religion, on the battlefield with our soldiers.  They have focused on the actions of military commanders and those who write policy at the Pentagon not because there have not been abuses in the chaplain corps, but because they know that the court decision that keeps military chaplaincy constitutional is fragile, at best.

I believe we have reached the end of that patience and restraint.  It is my belief that, unless there is a major effort to reform the Chaplain Corps in the immediate future, there will soon be a court challenge, perhaps filed by MRFF, as to whether or not our military chaplain corps as currently staffed and structured is constitutional.

And, I have no idea what the outcome of such a court case would be.  I’m just glad my primary income comes from Parish Ministry…

Yours in Faith,

Rev. David

Here is a link to other articles I have written on military chaplaincy

*The DADT Repeal policy allows military chaplains to decide that they will not perform religious services for anyone who is LGB.  They are still required to find another chaplain or a civilian minister to provide such services (as requested) for LGB servicemembers, but there is no formal structure in place for them to do that.

38 Thoughts on “Is the Constitutionality of Military Chaplaincy in Danger?

  1. A relevant link: Why Do We Need Humanist Chaplains in the Military? by the Friendly Atheist.

    I also want to push-back on your take. First, there is nothing wrong with favoring passion over restraint on any particular topic. If you have an issue with how the MRFF do their work, I hope you will engage with them. I think they would greatly benefit from your input. You say you “believe” you know what the MRFF is thinking. You speculate that they might file a lawsuit. Shouldn’t you find out? Would that be allowed without permission of the Army chaplain corps?

  2. Hmm….interesting. A divergent viewpoint: while there’s always bad behavior in the military (soldiers, officers, chaplains, etc.), I wonder…is this truly related to bad behavior on chaplain’s part (conveniently ignoring, of course, the good and devoted chaplains, and misbehaving soldiers), or is this more related to possibly hyper-sensitive, overly-partisan types at these organizations?
    My understanding (from the schoolhouse, and numerous others) is that the constitutionality of chaplains is historically documented, and constitutionally defensible (there’s been a brief history of challenge, as I’m sure you’re aware). So this might be more an issue of very aggressive secularists battling against the religious people in the military…which is not new.
    The MRFF, for example, may be “restrained.” I will grant that, in ignorance of what they haven’t done. They are also very partisan (which is not typically admitted publicly). If this was as simple as a progressive religious organization targetting traditionalists, that would be normal. Unacknowledged partisanship, though, is a shame. I see this as another sign of progressive disappointment in the transformation of the military/chaplaincy from being less conservative to more conservative.
    I wonder: what would a “good chaplain” award from them look like? What would the conditions be? Would we be surprised to find they prefer progressive chaplains over traditionalists? Perhaps, females over males? Other faith groups over, say, Christians? This could be very telling.
    I agree with you regarding the need for chaplains to concentrate more on taking care of soldiers, and I see the spiritual element as absolutely central to this, and potentially the very thing such a group is against. This would be lamentable, and another sad example of the politicization of spirituality, as well as a grudge on the part of this group.
    David, thank you for some thought-provoking words.

  3. Hello Mark,

    I’m not critiquing their passion… I understand some of what has motivated MRFF and it’s leaders, including Mikey Weinstein’s story of his son’s treatment at the Air Force Academy. I have had the occasional contact with MRFF over the years, and sent them an email with a link to the article when I published it (something I always try to do when I write about someone).

    As to my speculation… I believe there are several groups, and even individuals who might challenge the constitutionality of the Chaplain Corps in court in the coming few years. This possibility has been an “elephant in the room” of more chaplain gatherings than I can count since I became a Chaplain Candidate in 2007. What I’m hoping to do is to name the elephant. MRFF might be the most likely candidate, but it is certainly not the only one. SLDN might do it, and so might the ACLU.

    I do support and participate in an organization that has been in an ongoing conversation with the Chaplain Corps about these kinds of issues (as a very junior member) known as the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy. There is, as far as I know, and ongoing conversation between the Forum and many of these organizations that may be moved to challenge the constitutionality of the Chaplain Corps in the coming years.

    Yours in Faith,

    Rev. David

  4. Kenneth,

    The amazing thing is that I do not disagree with most of what you said, except for the points about how “constitutionally defensible” the Chaplain Corps is, and how religious the military is. The decision in Katkoff v. Marsh is pretty clear, and much of the misbehavior in the chaplain corps seems to me to contradict that clarity.

    As I have read the decision, there is not a provision in it for misbehavior… and if there are not significant repercussions for such “misbehavior” by chaplains, then the legal argument can be made that command is tacitly complicit in said misbehavior, no matter the official policy that you and I both learned at the schoolhouse.

    I’m not arguing for what would happen if such a legal case were filed, because quite frankly I don’t know. You could be right, that the result of such a case would uphold the constitutionality of the Chaplain Corps, perhaps even without the role restriction placed by Katkoff v. Marsh. I’m simply arguing that I believe that such a case is a possibility in the next few years.

    As to the partisan nature of MRFF, you might indeed have a point… although I would be willing to bet that many MRFF supporters would disagree with you. However, I would also be willing to bet that the military is no more “religious” or “secular” than the rest of society, at least in my experience… and we live in a country that is at best pluralist, and more likely it is secular.

    In my experience, the military reflects the society it arises from, with the possible exception that much of the military (at least the enlisted members) are from the lower end of the economic spectrum.

    I always love the conversation, as you know! Thank you!

    Yours in faith,

    Rev. David

  5. Oh, and though I don’t know what a “Good Chaplain Award” that MRFF would give out would be, I know what criteria I would give for the award…

    It would be for Chaplains who go out of their way to support and facilitate the religious needs of service members and families who are of different, and even contradictory faiths to their own.

    Perhaps a “Good Chaplain Award” for the Chaplains that have supported the Wiccan group at Ft. Hood. Or a “Good Chaplain Award” for the Chaplains who are supporting a Buddhist study group at Wheeler Army Arifield in Hawaii…

    That would be my criteria… Chaplains who transcend their own faith commitments to provide ministry to service members and their families.

    Yours in Faith,

    Rev. David

  6. I’ve just spent some time looking, without success, at the archive for Martin Marty’s “Sightings” column, which comes out from the U of Chicago Divinity School. I recall reading therein several years ago — possibly one of Marty’s items, possibly one by the column’s weekly guest contributors — in which was told the story of a military chaplain (I want to say Baptist) who made sure to get proper Buddhist scriptures for Buddhist soldiers and their families. I think that individual surely would qualify for a “Good Chaplain Award”!

  7. Now that’s what I’m talking about….

    Maybe I do need to have a “Celestial Lands Good Chaplain Award”… 🙂

    Or maybe even better… a suggestion to the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy!

    Yours in faith,

    Rev. David

  8. Kenneth wrote:

    They (MRFF) are also very partisan (which is not typically admitted publicly).

    For what it’s worth, the founder of the MRFF is an Air Force Academy graduate, Air Force Officer, and had served in the Reagan White House:


    So your complaint is that the organization too Republican?

  9. I’m well aware of Mikey Weinstein’s background. I salute his service, both in uniform and the White House. I disagree with the slant of most of his work with the MRFF.
    My complaint about the organization should be understandable from a traditionalist religious perspective: they publicly state they work for all service-members, and yet most of what they do is in service primarily for “progressive” groups and causes. While there’s nothing wrong with this, that segment of the military is not representative of the whole. This should be acknowledged. I’m not seeing the MRFF acting as anything but a left-leaning, military, religious version of the ACLU. For a group pledged to defend “religious freedom” for the military, I’m hearing far too much anger from them against legitimate religious expression in the military, particularly aimed at evangelical, conservative Protestants. The MRFF doesn’t really defend ALL religious freedom, in my book. This is sad and lamentable, because it demonstrates partisan political attitudes, as opposed to actual defense of religious beliefs and practices.

  10. Oh, and David….agreed about the “good chaplain” part. That’s why it’s so vitally important to take care of “everybody”….Buddhists, Wiccans, etc. Thanks, buddy!

  11. Dr. Philip Breeze on Monday October 31, 2011 at 20:41 +0000 said:

    The very notion of an “oath” elevates whatever you are swearing to do to the highest law one recognizes. What part of “so help me God” is giving you chaplains the most difficulty? If that incantation carries no weight, then why not just go with “Scouts’ Honor”?

    Any chaplain who takes an OATH to uphold the Constitution, and then ignores that OATH in order to fulfill worldly demands from his or her denominational leaders needs to be thrown out of the military immediately … unless preceded by a stay at Ft. Leavenworth, perhaps … and then thrown out.

  12. From reading the letters that MRFF posts on their website, the majority of the complaints are received from service members who are Jewish, Catholic or Protestants of various mainstream faiths. I would recommend that you go to the MRFF website and read the complaints they receive. The particular one I have linked to below really has stayed with me, and I have thought often about this young man and wondered whether he is still safe and sane.


    I think you will see that the problem isn’t the particular faith held by the chaplain, but instead the assumption by SOME superiors that they are entitled to order their men’s religion, and the insistence of SOME chaplains that the only ‘real’ Christianity is their own particular sect which they only consider to be freely practiced if they are allowed to create and maintain a climate of overt, communal religiosity that marginalizes ‘nonbelievers’. If you check out the study done of religious diversity in the military (link below), I think you will see there is no one faith that is “representative of the whole”.


    People should not apply to be chaplains if they are not capable of following or unwilling to follow the rules about respecting the religious beliefs or nonbeliefs of the troops. Someone whose religion beliefs REQUIRE him to dismiss those of other faith traditions as ‘not real Christians’, and who can’t relate to and offer effective help to someone of another faith, sadly, is just not capable of doing the job and needs to resign. The fact that among this number will be more conservative chaplains than progressives isn’t surprising, since by the very nature of their beliefs, the ones most likely to feel it’s right to impose their faith will be authoritarian conservatives, while progressives are more likely to be tolerant of diversity.

  13. Kenneth wrote:

    My complaint about the organization should be understandable from a traditionalist religious perspective: they publicly state they work for all service-members, and yet most of what they do is in service primarily for “progressive” groups and causes.


    The problem here may be that you’re assuming a symmetry where traditionalist religions and progressive religions are both equally responsible for inciting religious intolerance incidents with tacit command approval in the US military.

    The reality may be that this symmetry doesn’t exist.

    You may want to read this 2005 Yale Divinity School press release documenting the testimony of a UMC minister and Yale faculty member about the incidents at the Air Force Academy that motivated Mr. Weinstein to form the MRFF group:


    I would also recommend watching the documentary “Constantine’s Sword” based on the James Carroll’s book by the same name. Mr. Weinstein is interviewed in this movie and he talks about the religious intolerance that his kids experienced in the Air Force.

    Based on the reports that I’ve read, the bulk of the religious intolerance problems seem to be coming from traditionalists. If you know of any comparable examples where religious liberal chaplains have engaged in intolerance, perhaps you should share them. Personally, I would be surprised to learn that an equivalent problem exists within the liberal and progressive religious voices in the US military. I write this as a military retiree who served for just over 20 years in the Air Force who has some first-hand experience with military culture.

  14. Dr. Breeze:
    I appreciate your comments, but am confused. I take such oaths (including the ones I swore first to become an officer, and then a chaplain) quite seriously. I’m detecting a tone of animosity and perhaps even condescension in your comments, and would love for you to unpack exactly what is driving this. Then, I’ll know whether I’m actually the appropriate target of such thoughts, or merely the convenient person out in the open. I cannot speak for all other chaplains, of course, only for myself, and maybe others in my tradition.
    I take the Constitution seriously as well….leading to the stack of pocket copies in my office for giving to whomever wants them. The First Amendment of that document is rather meaningful to me, since is guarantees freedom of religion to my troops, which is part of my job.
    What I’m hearing from you says that you see a gulf between my oath as officer/chaplain, and the demands of my denominational leader, who endorses me to the chaplaincy. Do you correctly understand the world the the chaplain operates in? Given that my particular endorser is a retired general, who understands the rules and oaths likely better than I do, I’d enjoy hearing from you the cause of the vitriol you’re directing at me. Is this too much to ask?

  15. Since MRFF responds to requests for help from military personnel on an as-required basis, it isn’t fair to suggest that they have a partisan agenda, or that they would only respond to complaints from “progressive” or “left-leaning” members. I’m sure MRFF supports “legitimate expressions of religion” IN the Military, but there is no legitimate expression of religion BY the Military. And that is the message and the mission of MRFF.

  16. Denver,

    I could not have said it better… thank you. I know that much of the Chaplain Corps does perceive MRFF as Kenneth described though… and I can even see how they have come to that perception.

    I believe that the perception that MRFF is “partisan” comes from there not being a significant public voice for religious liberty in the military prior to MRFF. Therefore, when MRFF began its work, added to the passion that they show, they were perceived as “partisan”.

    Yours in faith,

    Rev. David

  17. Frances in California on Tuesday November 1, 2011 at 13:19 +0000 said:

    Thank you, Rev. David, for staying steadfastly with the Military Chaplaincy with the high standards of Unitarian-Universalism. I’m a UU myself and there’s a REASON; I’m reminded every time I visit a “mainstream” church. You and Mikey have the hardest two jobs in America right now. Y’all be strong; there are masses of UUs in the United States; we just don’t get the kind of air time the fatcats do. We love our military offspring; we support the rank and file; we cheer Obama for bringing the troops home; we hold anti-war/pro-soldier rallies; and we support Bradley Manning . . . and you and Mikey. Stay strong. F in C.

  18. If the Constitutionality of the Chaplaincy is in danger, then the danger comes not from organizations like the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, but from the infiltration of the chaplaincy by right-wing evangelical Christian elements who see the military as a way to use the might of the U.S. Military to spread their peculiar brand of faith.

  19. Tim,

    I agree. The interesting thing is that each military chaplain is by definition required to “serve two masters” (to mis-quote Jesus). They are military officers, subject to the requirements of their oath… and they are also clergy-persons subject to the expectations and standards of their denominational endorsers.

    As I said, I don’t know what the answer to this will be, but I wonder if part of the issue needs to be addressed not just at the level of Chaplains, but at the level of what Endorsers are expecting of the Chaplains they endorse.

    I agree with you…MRFF is just doing what they are called to do. It is the Chaplain Corps that has made it conceivable for such a court challenge to occur.

    Yours in faith,

    Rev. David

  20. [quote=kennethos]particularly aimed at evangelical, conservative Protestants.[/quote]
    The reason for that being that some members of these sects have made it their mission to go around harassing people. More progressive sects don’t tend to encourage that kind of behavior.

  21. They should bring back the old rule that mandated that the chaplaincy needs to proportionally reflect the military personnel. So if there are 15% Catholics, then 15% of the chaplains needs to be Catholics. There could be a margin either way to make it more practical.

    They rescinded that in the early 70s (I think) and it led to the sad fact that about 60% of all chaplains are Southern Baptists or other types of fundamentalist Protestants. Which is several times as much as the troops

  22. Dr. Breeze, thanks for the comments. They leave me a tad confused, and perhaps you can help me understood what you mean.
    1) I take the oaths I swore for military service very seriously, both as an enlisted soldier, then as an officer, then as a chaplain. As a chaplain, I serve both as a military officer, and as a clergyman, in submission to my denomination. This is how chaplains have operated for decades, successfully and professionally. Do you see a dilemma here?
    2) I take the Constitution seriously as well. I have a stack of pocket copies in my office, to give to soldiers who want them, along with Bibles. I particularly appreciate the First Amendment, with its guarantees of religious freedom, enabling me to do my job of helping soldiers to enjoy their religious freedom. Forgive me…I don’t see any discrepancy between the First Amendment and my duties. My mission is to provide spiritual support to ALL my soldiers, regardless of faith background. Would you prefer me do something different?
    3) I’ll assume you don’t understand how chaplains operate regarding their denomination and the military. It’s understandable. My endorser, a retired general, likewise takes his responsibilities seriously.
    Your tone indicates a certain amount of anger towards me, which I don’t quite understand. If you’d like to enlighten me, I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

  23. Denver, David, I understand, partly, your appreciation for the MRFF. If I’m correct in assuming a progressive background on both your parts, then such a group would be welcome. I didn’t say they *only* respond to progressive/left-leaning members, but I have yet to read anything from them highlighting their work on behalf of traditional religious activity (I’m not saying they don’t…but they haven’t highlighted, so I’d be ignorant of it.) Most of the help the give tends to be left-of-center, as opposed to groups like, say, Focus on the Family, which would be described as right-of-center. As for a partisan agenda….the releases I’ve read describe only “one religious faith (patriotism), “one religious scripture”, et al. I guess this means the Bibles, Books of Mormon, Koran, etc., in my office, have been outmoded. If they don’t have a certain kind of agenda, then I’m suddenly lost in the rhetorical wilderness.
    Before folks jump on me, I *welcome* watchdog groups to keep the military, and the chaplaincy, honest and doing their job. I also welcome *honest* watchdog groups. For example, Chris Rodda has done some superb work for the MRFF, especially regarding David Barton. That said, she also comes across as being angry and bitter toward evangelical Christians, which for a progressive is not always surprising. I find it difficult to trust Chris Rodda, and Mikey Weinstein, to be non-partisan and non-political with their behavior thus far.
    Finally, I find Denver’s statement curious: “but there is no legitimate expression of religion BY the Military.” Really? Why do you say this? On what grounds, and what cause? We have other professional classes (i.e., doctors, lawyers, etc.) in the military, that are not without controversy. Why is religion singled out?

  24. Tim:
    Could you describe for me, please, exactly how and when the “right-wing evangelical Christian elements” infiltrated the chaplaincy? I’m curious about this. I’ve read a few accounts from journalists, who report fairly selectively about this issue, given their respective biases. It’s interesting: prior to Vietnam, both traditonal/conservative denominations, and the progressive/liberal ones sent in chaplains to the military. So, there was a fair amount of diversity, discussions, etc. During/after Vietnam, most of the progressive denomination became anti-war, and stopped sending chaplains in. The traditional ones didn’t, and continued sending chaplains in. Two or three decades later, what’s the result? The chaplaincy is much more conservative than before. Does this indicate “infiltration” by “right-wing” elements? Or that traditional denominations *kept doing* what they did before, and progressive ones *didn’t*?
    I applaud progressive denominations for wanting to send chaplains in, and maintain religious diversity and pluralism. This strengthens the chaplaincy! But, if it does not involve care for soldiers from a variety of faith backgrounds, but instead devolves into a power struggle, then it’s not a good thing. This, I fear.

  25. Just letting you all know that there were some comments that were in the spam filter, and I had to go back and approve them. So, all of you who are in this discussion, you may want to go back and take a look at them….

    Thank you all!

    Yours in Faith,

    Rev. David

  26. Why would the MRRF help privileged groups that are in power? There is no need to support the oppressors. They have immense sums of money and are politically connected to the highest places.

    More than 95% of their clients are mainline Protestants or Catholics. Not atheists. Other Christians are just as much a target for radical fundamentalists as they aren’t the right kind of Christians for them. It’s “born again” only.

    As I said above, it used to be that the chaplaincy actually reflected the troops by the numbers. That rule was abolished in the 70s. The rise of fundamentalism in the chaplaincy then coincided with the rise of right-wing Christianity in the 80s and beyond. It’s a very convenient way for them to have a literally captive audience that is easily coerced

  27. Steve:
    Thanks for the thoughtful response. You may be right; such a symmetry may not be there! I’m well aware of Dr. Leslie’s work. I’ve read her Yale articles on the AFA matter, and was almost amused (A Yale progressive religion professor visits Colorado Springs, hotbed of conservative evangelicalism, and *what’s* her reaction?). She did excellent work on helping the healing in the aftermath of the sexual harassment incidents. When she “expanded” her mission by reacting to signs of traditional religious expression, unsurprisingly, a number of folks weren’t too thrilled.
    I haven’t seen the film, but can feel sympathy for Mr. Weinstein’s family members. Religious persecution (whether the sufferer is Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc.) should never happen. The chaplain’s role should be to ensure an atmosphere of religious freedom. Hopefully, there can be religious dialogues going on as well, to broaden understanding. There’s also a chain-of-command in all of this as well. As a chaplain, I’m seeing “red flags” in all of this of various failures; nothing new in that, though.
    Most of my understanding (thus far) of “religious liberal” intolerance is when a progressive chaplain (or perhaps, commanding officer) forces other chaplains (or soldiers) to “tone done” Constitutionally-permitted, militarily-allowed religious expression, in the name of pluralism and diversity. A lot of these complaints stem from unthinking chaplains (which can be corrected in the chaplain chain-of-command, and typically is), or soldiers who can be zealous in their witnessing (I was this way many years ago, as a very young soldiers; I’ve matured slightly in the years since). Perhaps growing in disciple relationship can change that; regardless, said troops aren’t doing anything wrong, except perhaps acting obnoxiously. It becomes an issue of sour grapes then, on others’ parts.

  28. I am struggling to understand your position. Could you please explain exactly what you mean by “it becomes an issue of sour grapes” when others object to ‘unthinking’ chaplains infringing on the religious freedom of troops of other faiths or troops acting obnoxiously to their fellows in their zeal to witness?

  29. I’m a military chaplain too, but if you want to get to the “nitty gritty” on this issue of whether or not military chaplains are doing their primary job of protecting the religious freedom of Soldiers, PROVIDE QUANTITATIVE PROOF. Otherwise, it’s just emotive pandering on your part, and good marketing (propaganda) on MRRF’s.

  30. Mr. Montes,

    Proving whether or not Chaplains have been proselytizing in the U.S. Military was not the point of my article. Whether it is true or not (I think it is, and I believe the experiences I have had or heard about justify that belief), the perception that it is true exists for many people… including MRFF. The point of the article was more about whether those people who have that perception are considering legal action in relationship to that perception…

    It was not the point of the article to prove, one way or another, whether such proselytizing is occurring. Frankly, I’m pretty certain the evidence is there, and it is being gathered for the legal challenge that I am predicting.

    That being said, I think I want to add two things. First, I, a Chaplain from a minority faith tradition, have routinely had to face proselytizing from fellow chaplains,and have routinely had to bear witness to prejudicial comments from them about my faith tradition. It is almost just a cost of being a UU and a military chaplain.

    Second, I think MRFF provided good evidence that I was on the right track with analyzing their thinking… as they took the article I wrote and not only put it on the front page of their website, but also sent it out to all 10,000 people on their email list. So,I would call that “quantifiable proof”of the premise of the article… that such a court case is something that MRFF is thinking of pursuing.

    Your post represents a strawman argument, as it was not the point of the article.

    Yours in faith,

    Rev. David

  31. Alaska Grandma:
    Hi. I appreciated your comment before, and agree with a number of things you say. I agree that some folks who become chaplains perhaps shouldn’t be. If their only concern is evangelism, and not helping soldiers of other faiths…. If they have no time for soldiers from other faith groups… If they belittle anyone different… You get the idea. If a soldier chats with me, I’ll inquire as to their beliefs. I may even challenge their beliefs, in terms of what they believe and why (and hopefully, *anyone* can stand this!). I do not, *ever*, “push” my beliefs down somebody’s throat. If they ask, I tell them about Jesus, and my faith. My folks do, in fact, ask me what I think about stuff. I tell them. Gently, lovingly, perhaps even persuasively. It’s as God moves.
    There are other chaplains out there who work differently. I can’t always do much about them, except perhaps damage control. I wish, as St. Paul once said, that everybody were like me. They aren’t.
    I too have read some of the letters sent to MRFF. As a chaplain, operating with the chain-of-command, I’m seeing some serious “red flags.” Soldiers with issues who need help, preferably from a chaplain (or perhaps mental help), who’s been to a combat zone, and understands the mentality of being in the box, who’s been shot at, and understand the thinking inherent. Been there, done that. I grasp how a soldier can be frustrated by a chaplain who’s not willing to listen. I’d ask, did you go talk to anybody else? Any other chaplains, or combat stress, etc? ‘Cause otherwise, you’re walking wounded. Soldiers, often males, will be proud enough to think they’re OK, when they need help.
    If a soldier thinks “am I a spiritual failure”? We can argue about Army programs and Constitutionality, which can be a red herring. (It’s Army regs that are the issue, religious tests in the Constitution are reserved for elected office.) It stems from the wave of suicides in the Army, which has multiple causes. Perhaps a different approach should be sought (I wouldn’t argue you on that point). But something has/had to be done. This was part of the answer. If people have issues, take it up the chain of command (which hasn’t been done…instead, people complain to the MRFF). Perhaps outside pressure is helpful for assisting individuals….but these individuals need to exhaust the chain of command, do things the right way (perhaps even the Army way)…and if they’re *still* screwed over…that’s when the chaplain can step in.
    Finally, when I said “sour grapes”….sorry, it sounds like I didn’t say it clearly enough. I wasn’t referring to unthinking chaplains (in the Army/military mindset, this would be handled by either the chaplain/technical chain of command, offering said chaplain corrective training, or by the chain of command saying “chaplain, don’t do that again); I was referring to soldiers, ordinary troops who are zealous in their beliefs and witness to fellow soldiers. If non-religious, or irreligious folks, take offense to a religious message, and the religious guy doesn’t listen, there’s only so many avenues you can take. Ideally, an older, wiser believer would take aside and disciple the younger religious zealot and teach said person how to do or say things with wisdom, instead of being, well, stupid at times. (I’ve been both people in my life!) The zealot has as much freedom to witness, as the non-religious has freedom to resent it. The non-religious has to live with the zealous, and vice-versa. I just hope there’s tolerance on both sides of the fence!
    Grandma, thanks for asking for clarification. As always, David, thanks for the opportunity to clear the air.

  32. Oops, sorry…This part should read:
    If people have issues, take it up the chain of command (which hasn’t *always* been done…instead, people complain to the MRFF).

  33. Rev. David, got to say, if the response by the military to the lawsuit you fear is anything like the responses here to your post, the chaplaincy is doomed. “You can’t prove we are but if we did it’s okay anyway because it’s a tenet of our religion that we get to loudly declare we’re better than everybody else and discriminate against other faiths” is NOT going to stand the constitutional test.

  34. Rev. David, I’d disagree with you on my proposing quantifiable proof chaplains are not doing their primary work of protecting religious liberty as a starwman. But I’d grant you one concession. First things first. Your statment would be true in its fullest sense if 51% of Chaplains where NOT doing their primary job of protecting others religious liberty. Nowhere in your article has provided that number. Are you speaking of AD chaplains, how many are there? All components including Reserve and National Guard? I don’t see the numbers in your article hence emotive arguing. Yes, you can gain sympathy from segments of our population already distrustful or against religion in public arenas. But if you are attempting to provide the understanding and “objective” religious voice echoing the MRRF and other civil liberties organizations representing minority religions and atheists, I think you’ve failed. How many Chaplains of the total you supposedly know about in all of the US Military are PRIMARILY proselytizing and not PROTECTING religious liberty? You have no answer. Just “concern” from your personal encounters and concerns. NOW, this is the concession I give you. It’s possible to ledger a lawsuit based on a single or minority complaint. What I’m saying is that a legal case can be filed from a single incident. Now whether or not the Supreme Court will ever overturn a 200+ institution in the US military over one incident is unlikely, but the MRRF can try. I’d be smarter to provide quantifiable evidence along with the lawsuit that the military Chaplaincy is functioning beyond their constitutional parameters. But to speak of “my experience” as the overwhelming reality, Iis disturbing to me because the “exceptions” in terms of numbers (51%) don’t make the rule- however real the experiences, however real the emotions and experience. I think that’s called a “hasty generalization”.

  35. Mr. Montes,

    Here’s why I believe the argument you made is a strawman argument. Because my article is about people reacting to perception. One of the first principles of political activism is that it almost does not matter what the reality is if you cannot manage the perceptions that people have about said reality. Most action in the political sphere are motivated not by reality, but by perceptions.

    Now, you are correct that a legal case would need to be based on quantifiable reality, and if MRFF or another organization moves forward, they will need to get their ducks in a row. But as much of the commentary I have received, both here and in email shows, the Chaplain Corps has a serious perception problem. There are many times many people who perceive the Chaplain Corps as “Government Paid Missionaries for Christ”. That perception is what is motivating groups like MRFF to do the work to collect the quantifiable evidence you request.

    It is the perception problem that leads to the collection of evidence, which is where we are now. My article is not making a quantifiable claim. My article is pointing out the perception problem that the Chaplain Corps has right now.

    I believe that perception problem will be born out by the evidence that is being collected.

    Secondly, I disagree with your 51+ percent model. Actually, I think the Chaplain Corps could face a legal challenge with as little as 5 percent of Chaplains actively proselytizing, if Chaplain supervisors, the Chief of Chaplains offices, and military commanders do not actively take a role to correct, punish, or remove that 5 percent. Why? Because not taking corrective action means that the command is also guilty of collusion to violate both military regulations and federal law.

    The problem rests not in individual Chaplains proselytizing… the problem rests in whether or not the system holds them accountable to regulations and the law when they do. And, if the system does not hold them accountable, then the system needs to be challenged as a whole.

    Yours in faith,

    Rev. David

  36. Sure. I got the perception thing. Take it and run with it.

    I’m not in the business of epistemological relativism and how I can take advantage of peoples ignorance of understanding reality.

    I’m in the business of truth and particularly eternal truths (some would say that’s a redundant statement), and IMHO believe this is a lbit more solid than believing in something sincerely. whether or not it exist as such.

    Good luck,


  37. There should be a Goodwin’s law corollary for mentioning “epistemology” (both the original version: chance of mention goes up as thread lengthens; and the widely used version: mention automatically loses the argument). Combined with “relativism” the point is doubly strong. To end on a positive note, I think the Rev. David did any excellent job responding to your argument.

  38. Rev. Keith Wright on Sunday September 16, 2012 at 2:03 +0000 said:

    Just a word. Glen Doherty was killed in the Embassy attack in Libya. He was on the board of the MRFF. Namaste.

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