The Navy chaplain who faced potential discharge after he voiced his biblical beliefs on sexuality during a counseling session says that he felt as if the country he served for over 19 years had "betrayed" him when he was slapped with potential career-ending charges for counseling in accordance with his faith.
Retired Navy chaplain Wes Modder participated in a webcast hosted by the social conservative advocacy group Family Research Council on Tuesday to highlight reasons why President Donald Trump and his administration should move swiftly to enact an executive order on religious freedom that would protect First Amendment rights, especially for those who hold biblical beliefs on marriage and abortion.
Modder, who served as a chaplain at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command in South Carolina and served four years in the Marines, was the subject of a Feb. 17, 2015, memo from Capt. Jon Fahs sent to the Navy Personnel Command suggesting three different courses of action that the Navy should take against Modder because he communicated his Christian belief on homosexuality during counseling.
Fahs recommended that Modder be assigned elsewhere and relieved of duties. Additionally, Fahs recommended that not only should Modder be removed from the Navy promotion list but that he also be sent to the Naval Board of Inquiry for a "separation proceeding" that could have possibly resulted in Modder being discharged.
But in September 2015, Modder was exonerated when the Navy Personnel Command rejected Fahs' requests and cleared Modder of wrongdoing.
During the webcast, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins asked Modder, who retired from the Navy last year, what was going through his mind when he was alerted to Fahs' recommendations.
"I was shocked. I felt betrayed by my country and by the Navy," Modder said. "I had to stop and pause and think to myself, 'Why did this happen to me? I am providing good, biblical worldview-based counseling and private sessions with my assistant, voluntarily.'"
Modder added that he believes that the "issue was [that] the government was not invited into my conscience."
"As an ordained minister, I am going to give that biblical worldview," Modder asserted. "That doesn't mean that I am not caring for people, not able to function in a diverse, pluralistic environment. [I am] certain God sees a value in every person."
"The greatest gift as a chaplain that I can give is being truthful and honest with people," he continued.
Modder added that some in the Navy might have believed that he "wasn't following procedure" by offering advice on sexuality in accordance with his biblical beliefs.
"In fact, I was following the biblical mandate," he contended. "Now, we have strategic instructions that are counterintuitive to Scripture. So there is conflict there."
Mike Berry, an attorney with The First Liberty Institute who represented Modder, stressed during the webcast that Modder is not the only example of how the military infringes upon the religious freedom of service members.
"We have seen, really nothing but an increase, and the hostility to religious freedom in our military has shown no signs of slowing down," Berry said. "What picked up momentum in the past eight years in the previous administration has really carried on. To take away religious freedom from those who swear on oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, to me, is really the greatest form of offense that I can imagine."
Berry pointed out the case of former Marine Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling, who was demoted to private and given a bad conduct discharge last year. Sterling was convicted of charges that she and Berry claim stem from a May 2013 disagreement she had with her staff sergeant in which she refused to remove a Bible verse that was taped to her computer.
Berry also mentioned the case of Air Force veteran Oscar Rodriguez, who was forcibly removed from Travis Air Force Base in California for mentioning God during a speech at a retirement ceremony for Master Sgt. Charles Roberson.
"The problem that many people don't realize is that the root of this issue is embedded within the DNA of the military right now — not in terms of the culture but the regulations and rules and policies," Berry explained. "[There are] a lot of policies that are not favorable to religious liberty. Many would be surprised to find out that the average civilian has more religious freedom rights than does the average person in uniform. That can be changed with a stroke of a pen or the signing of a piece of legislation."
The Family Research Council has started a petition calling on Trump to sign an executive order on religious freedom. So far over 42,000 people have signed. Perkins is expected to deliver the petition to the White House sometime this week.
"The military, the Pentagon is beholden to the commander in chief and beholden to Congress," Berry added. "If the president, via executive order, or the Congress, via legislation, tells the Pentagon that you need to do this or you need to do that, as we have seen over and over, when the president or Congress tells the military to jump, the military will say 'How high?'"