Not Just Religious Censorship

Like Congressman Collins, I had also seen the news about Chaplains and proselytization within the DoD. This morning it spread like wildfire in the Catholic Blogosphere.  It’s rather disheartening that it is now possible for a Chaplain to be court marshaled or face NJP (Non judicial punishment, kinda like being grounded but  worse) for doing their job.

The last couple of months seem to have been difficult when it comes to religious freedom in the military. First labeling Roman Catholics and Evangelical Christians as religious extremists then blocking the Southern Baptist Convention’s website, and now this.

While I’m generally of the opinion that one’s faith is a personal matter and should only be discussed openly under certain circumstances, I find these missteps bothersome.

Some of my friends that have served in various capacities have returned with PTSD in varying degrees. Given the state of the military’s mental health system, many of them were only left with their faith to get them through the demons they brought back from war.

With this issue, there is certainly a constitutional first amendment conversation that should be had. However, it is also an issue that impacts how we treat our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen when they come home.

War is hell. Faith is one way to deal with that reality when the civilians at home can’t/won’t set up the needed mental health care infrastructure for when everyone comes home. Let them at least have the Padre to talk to.


  1. George Chidi says:

    I can’t tell if this story is a deliberate misstatement of facts on the ground or just a cock-up. It started to float through my Facebook feed this morning from a couple of Army buddies, who picked it up from Breitbart … which is to say, from a site that peddles horses–t.

    Christians aren’t the endangered species in the military. The Army and (especially) the Air Force is more religiously evangelical now than perhaps at any point in history. The Air Force Academy appears to be run by Christian Dominionist-types these days, officers who view the deliberate subversion of the service into an overtly Christian enterprise as a necessary step to turning the nation into a Christian theocracy.

    Guys, cadets are resigning from the academies because they’re being told that they’re untrustworthy if they’re not strong Christians. This is more than just a chaplain handing out Bibles. It’s your brigade commander refusing to promote soldiers who don’t show up at chapel. It’s real, it’s serious, and it’s a recruiting problem in a country where 20 percent of its citizens (and a disproportionate number of citizens who qualify for service) are officially no-rel-pref on the dog tag.

    The PTSD bit is actually my case, in point. If you’re not a believer, but are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, you’re going to have much of the help you’re looking for in the military wrapped inside an evangelical Christian message. “You’re in pain. Come to Jesus.” It’s coercive.

    No one is talking about getting rid of chaplains, except for the (fundamentalist) chaplains! Chaplains play an important role in the service, because a soldier at some FOB is just as entitled to have worship services available to him or her as anyone else. The chaplaincy is in place to protect the First Amendment right to worship for people in the service, despite the hardships of service.

    The chaplaincy is NOT a license for a government agent to convert the unfaithful. You can do the one without the other.

    • TheEiger says:

      “Guys, cadets are resigning from the academies because they’re being told that they’re untrustworthy if they’re not strong Christians.” Sure would like a source for this comment from somewhere other than Mother Jones.

  2. Eric The Younger says:

    I agree with your first argument. Promotion and determining the effectiveness of an officer should not be related to one’s faith/attendance at chapel.

    I do take issue with the second. Not every one with PTSD finds the evangelical chaplain, or even the Catholic one. Some seek out the others. I know of one soldier that sought out the Muslim chaplain and that’s where he found the help he needed. At no point was my assumption that the Chaplaincy was going to be disbanded, but it seems odd that you can NJP or even court martial an individual chaplain for doing their job.

    Part of Seminary (at least the Catholic and Lutheran versions that I’m more familiar with) is a significant portion of course work on counseling and how to counsel. If we won’t build up our mental health programs or let the innovative treatments be used (I’m thinking of the Yoga pilot program and some of the arts programs that have been used as pilot programs outside of DoD), then we need to let the Chaplaincy fill the void.

    At the end of the day, we need to take care of our people. And right now this is something we actually have in place that can help.

    • George Chidi says:

      I don’t think this is really about punishing chaplains at all. Chaplains are going to be given wide leeway to operate in the religious sphere because they’re ostensibly the ones who are best trained to manage it. And, in my experience in the Army, they were better people all around with whom to discuss matters of philosophy, regardless of religious belief. I love chaplains.

      It’s the commanders I’m worried about. The light colonel commanding a battalion by day who also happens to be an ordained minister, and expects to see his troops Tebowing after a firefight. The first sergeant who keeps sending the guys who don’t go to chapel on Sunday to pull extra duty.

      If you have PTSD, you shouldn’t have to go anywhere near a chaplain for treatment unless you want to. If you do have to because they’re the only counselors available, then that chaplain has a moral obligation to offer treatment without evangelizing. Treatment shouldn’t be like some AA meeting where you’re required to “submit to a higher power” before you get better. This is the Army, not the Boy Scouts. The government doesn’t get to discriminate against people who profess no religious belief.

      • Rick Day says:

        I’ll chime in from personal experience in the military about the ‘go along/get’ along approach to issues.

        In 1975 I was stationed at Laughlin AFB as a ‘gas jockey’ for T-38 jets. Launch/park, inspect, call out for maintenance, etc. Except for the 120 degree flightline during the day, it was OK duty.

        So I’m doing my thing..and along comes the annual United Way Drive. Which we are all ‘informally commanded’ to voluntarily participate. So being the dumb ass I am, I refused, citing my low pay as someone who should BENEFIT from charity instead of contributing.

        First, no one said anything. Then as the date came closer and the short list came down, I started getting strong suggestions to donate at least a $1. Still a bit pissed I did not get my promised assignment of Flight Control, unfortunately I insisted no. Unknown to me, this was a pride thing of 100% not just base wide, but MAJCOM! Every airman in the Air Force was unofficially required to participate in United way.

        Soon, I found out why. Embarrassing commanders over such prideful issues turned into less time on the flight line and more time on the wash rack. Deep night shifts with a new wife. TDY transfers to being a cop (OK that was not so bad, running radar on base is fun!). and I got a Letter of Reprimand for having ‘things’ an earlier occupant posted on my dorm wall (which everyone else did, with no issues) The kicker was the snafu payroll did with a couple of checks that amounted to about $15.00, but I got an Article 15 for not “promptly” reporting someone elses error. I could not wait to get out, but I stuck it out for 30 more months.

        Like George, I’ve worried over what is going on in the Air Force Academy. Chaplains to not have the ‘right’ to proselytize about Jesus to grunts. Bible thumping sergeants and commanders have no business, right or authority to reward/punish based on who bows to their religious messages. The Protestant military can be a cliquish club of vagabonds, especially when the Christians are smug in the thought that God is on THEIR side.

        I question why we even need chaplains anymore. Military or otherwise.

        • TheEiger says:

          “I question why we even need chaplains anymore. Military or otherwise.” It’s relatively simple because not everyone is an atheist.

          • James says:

            But what role does a chaplain play for a faithful protestant? Let me ask the question another way — if you are secure in your faith, why do you need a third party to give you guidance on your faith?

            • TheEiger says:

              As a faithful protestant, I believe having a chaplain or preacher guide you in your study of the Bible is both meaningful and very important to my faith. It has nothing to do with being insecure in my faith and everything to do with strengthening it through continuing education. Doctors, attorneys, engineers even welders have continuing education classes. Why should I not do the same with my faith and religion?

            • Noway says:

              How about when a serviceman questions the horror he may have just witnessed, James? How about when a serviceman begins to doubt his faith after seeing his buddy just get blown up by an IED?

              Your question is just plain idiotic.

          • George Chidi says:

            I can actually imagine an atheist “chaplain” of sorts. Commission a philosopher to fill the role. PhD in philosophy from a reputable school, concentration in humanist ethics.

        • Noway says:

          LOL! If I may say so with being pummeled by the resident libs, “Good Lord!” Rick you aren’t serious about your last sentence.

    • Eric The Younger says:

      I vaguely remember something about bearing a cross from somewhere. I could be wrong though.

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