Air Force Rejects Application of Chaplain Who Converted to Orthodox Judaism

A former evangelical Air Force chaplain, Captain Jeff Montanari, had his application denied after converting to Orthodox Judaism and requesting to become a chaplain for his new faith, according to the Air Force Times.

Montanari made it a focal point of his ministry to serve the Jewish community at March [Air Reserve Base], according to First Liberty Institute, a law firm dedicated to defending religious freedom, which is now representing him…

Those experiences, coupled with his discovery of his own Jewish lineage, led Montanari to begin seriously considering a conversion to Orthodox Judaism,

But that decision allegedly came at a high cost.

Superiors allegedly demeaned his character, refused to grant him a religious accommodation, segregated him from the rest of the chaplain staff, and excluded him from chaplain meetings, according to a statement from his lawyers. They effectively drove him out of the Air Force because of his change in religious affiliation, his lawyers argue.

While First Liberty is often on the other side of church/state separation issues, attempting to push Christianity on everyone else, this seems like a legitimate case of discrimination against a (now) non-Christian.

Montanari’s superiors, as well as another chaplain, pressured him not to convert, to the point that their pleas began to feel more like harassment. Eventually he decided to re-apply as a Jewish chaplain, but even then, there were obstacles.

What’s the Air Force’s justification for denying his application even though they knew he could do the job? They’re pointing to a technicality.

Unbeknownst to Montanari, [the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel] had rescinded its chaplain endorsement in January 2016. Although the law requires the Air Force to immediately notify chaplains in writing, giving them a chance to appeal or switch endorsing agencies, Montanari wasn’t told until this year, according to First Liberty.

This failure made it impossible for Chaplain Montanari to properly change ecclesiastical endorsers, seek an alternate position, or seek a waiver within the 10-day time frame required by the Air Force or the 90-day time frame required by the Civil Air Patrol,” according to First Liberty.

So, when he moved to re-apply, he found out he was essentially starting from scratch.

It wasn’t just about paperwork, though. Even during his interview, “he faced hostile questioning about his decision to convert.” And even though there aren’t many Jewish chaplains in the military, his application was rejected. (Actually, the Civil Air Patrol approved the application, only to rescind it later without explanation.)

Unfortunately for Montanari, the sect of Judaism he picked has an unfortunate tendency to be just as discriminating as evangelicals as to who is “in” and who is out. We don’t know the real reason for his rejection, but it’s outrageous that he was rejected by two different religious groups because he wasn’t able to meet their standards even after he had been in the chaplain role for several years.

(Image via First Liberty. Thanks to Nullifidian for the link)

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