Religious Freedom of Military Chaplains Under Attack for Event Saying Religious Freedom of Military Chaplains Is Under Attack

(Photo: The Christian Post / Sonny Hong)A panel brought before the US House Committee on Armed Services' Subcommittee on Military Personnel on Wednesday, November 19, 2014. From left to right: Michael Berry, senior counsel and director of Military Affairs with the Liberty Institute; Dr. Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty; retired US Navy chaplain Rabbi Bruce Kahn; Travis Weber, director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council; and Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

A secular foundation is demanding that the Department of Defense investigate several Christian military chaplains, saying they violated federal rules by praying publicly while in uniform at a July event promoting religious freedom, though religious freedom advocates say the charges have "no legal basis."

In a July 25 letter addressed to acting Defense Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine, Military Religious Freedom Foundation president Mikey Weinstein contended that Maj. General Dondi Costin, who gave the benediction at the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty's "Torchbearer Award" ceremony in Washington D.C. on July 12, "blatantly violated both Air Force and DOD regulations prohibiting the endorsement of a non-federal entity." Having seen pictures posted online, MRFF also complained about the appearance of Army chaplain Maj. John Scott, who gave the event's opening invocation, and Air Force Deputy Chief of Chaplains Brigadier General Steven A. Schiack, both of whom were also wearing military garb.

In an interview Wednesday with The Christian Post, Chaplain Alliance executive director Ron Crews said that "there is no legal basis for Mr. Weinstein's complaint. A military chaplain has every right to appear in uniform at an event to honor a member of Congress, not to mention a member of the House Armed Services Committee".

"I find it ironic that Mr. Weinstein's complaint is that Chaplain Costin offered a prayer at an event to celebrate a Congressman's work toward passing language to protect the right of military members to live out their faith while in uniform. Chaplain Costin and the others attending in uniform are symbols of the result of that effort," he continued.

Weinstein concludes his letter asking the DOD "not just to mete out administrative slaps on the wrists to the violators," arguing that "[j]ustice cries out for trial by courts-martial for those duly found to have criminally elevated their own personal sectarian version of horrifically homophobic, anti-atheist, fundamentalist Christianity over their sworn oaths to protect the secular mandates of bedrock DoD regulations and the United States Constitution."

Such ill feelings continue to this day.

In a Wednesday op-ed at the Huffington Post, MRFF Senior Research Director Chris Rodda writes "It is just fine, of course, for a private organization such as CARL to spew whatever homophobic, anti-atheist, Christian supremacist, and political views it wants to at its events. What is not just fine is for military personnel to endorse the opinions and agendas of private organizations (or "non-federal entities," as they are called in military regulations) by participating in their events in their official capacity."

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(Photo: Chritian Post/Brandon Showalter)Congressman Randy Forbes Receives Torchbearer Award on July 12, 2016 in Washington, DC.

The American Center for Law and Justice also disputes Weinstein's claim that Costin's prayer violated Defense Department policy.

In a twelve-page letter addressed to Defense Department IG Fine responding to Weinstein's allegations, ACLJ attorneys Jay Sekulow and Robert Ash wrote that "Military chaplains are, in the final analysis, members of the clergy of their specific faith groups, who conduct their ministry in uniform," arguing that "there is nothing wrong with military officers participating in functions for members of Congress, especially since it is the responsibility of Congress to make the rules that regulate the armed forces."

As CP reported on July 15, Crews said a notable uptick in incidents targeting ministers who serve soldiers has been occurring in recent years. Crews told CP then he knew of a chaplain who "was reprimanded by his commander because he used the Psalms as a resource to fight depression," though the reprimand was ultimately removed due to advocacy from members of Congress.