In the name of (insert god), we pray

Mason  Communion TableI waited a few days to comment on this story for two reasons. First of all, I was on the road and had limited access. Then I wanted to wait a day or two to see if any other media chased what I thought was a very significant story.

Alas, this seems to be another one of those stories that is only of interest to “conservative” media. For the life of me I cannot understand why, unless you want to say that the separation of church and state is merely a “conservative” issue.

The key story comes from Julia “There she goes again” Duin over at the Washington Times. According to a number of sources, the White House has agreed to pressure the Pentagon into letting military chaplains continue to voice public prayers that are appropriate in their own faith traditions, rather than requiring a kind of generic language that promotes a tax-dollar-funded civic faith that pleases people who believe that followers of all the world religions are basically on the same path to the top of the same mountain where they will someday learn that they have been worshipping the same God or gods or whatever (if you will allow me to be blunt about it).

Evangelical Protestants activists have, of course, been asking President Bush to clarify this situation with an executive order. Now, apparently, they have agreed to let the White House work quietly behind the scenes. Pay close attention because this gets complicated:

The administration struck a deal … with Rep. Walter B. Jones, North Carolina Republican, said the Rev. Billy Baugham of the Greenville, S.C.-based International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers. Since October, Mr. Jones has arranged for letters from 74 members of Congress demanding an executive order to end reported religious discrimination against evangelical Christian chaplains.

Claude Allen, White House domestic policy adviser, promised the congressman that President Bush will take up the issue personally with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said Mr. Baugham, who was involved in the discussion.

“He asked Jones if he’d be satisfied with less than an executive order, and Jones said ‘yes,’” he said.

Mr. Jones’ office, which confirmed that the conversation had taken place, says chaplains should be able to pray to whomever “their faith tradition” demands, including named gods, saints or prophets.

One of the most interesting details, for me, is an anecdote about a Muslim chaplain candidate who was corrected for praying in the name of “Allah, the most blessed and beautiful.” That turned into an safer appeal to the “most generous and eternal God.” One wonders how many Muslims will be willing to edit their faith in this manner.

In another case, a chaplain was taught how to add disclaimers at the end of his prayers, turning them into dual-source appeals to a generic god followed by language making it clear that only the speaker was praying to Jesus. All of this is, to say the least, precisely what church-state law calls the “excessive entanglement” of government in the free practice of religion.

Mason  Easter CongregationOf course, some on the left side of the church aisle are pleased with the God-lite language because it accurately reflects their theology. This is interesting, since these are normally the people who do not want to see tax dollars spent to proclaim a specific approach to religious faith.

But wait, you say, if chaplains voice public prayers that are faith specific, doesn’t that mean that tax dollars are being used to support a specific faith at that precise moment in time? Isn’t the government, in effect, funding religious confusion and allowing offensive religious speech in the public square?

Yes, that is what it means. The problem is that there are only two options, if people insist on using religious language during civic ceremonies in a diverse public square. Oh, I guess you could just fire all the chaplains and make the military go totally secular. There are people who want that.

Someone is going to have to clarify all of this because the issue is not going to go away on its own. Meanwhile, this is an important story and other news organizations need to cover it. For one thing, it’s interesting that the evangelicals have let the Bush White House off the hook again, when it comes to taking a public stand (photos from

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Mark

    For what it was worth I just blogged on this same issue, coming from my standpoint and my experience as a Chaplain Candidate in the Air Force.

    I have a hard time understanding how we are discriminating against “evangelical” chaplains (aren’t all Christians evangelical by call?). Chaplains are not forced to offer public prayer if making the prayer generic goes against their faith or denomination. And there is a lot more to being a chaplain than public prayer. Also, every chaplain is free to pray as he or she feels fit when conducting chapel services.

    My full post (rant) is here:

  • Mark

    Let me add that even though I’m not from a denomination that uses a capital “E” Evangelical in their name, I do consider myself evangelical by definition, and do preach quite strongly in that direction. Two of my strongest sermons to date on the subject of going out and spreading the Good News were both delivered in base chapels.

  • Daniel

    As a former Army JAG officer who used to teach courses in the UCMJ, I can say that Mark understand the issue and Terry seems to confuse civilian life with military life.

    There are no First Amendment rights in the military, at least not in the way they exist for civilians. If your commander gives an order, you follow it, regardless of what your faith tradition is. Military chaplains are expected to fulfill the mission of the military, not the mission of their church, especailly in public services. Military members don’t risk their lives so that they are forced to hear chaplains prostyletizing a specific faith at a public event.

    No one is required to join the military. When you do join, you play by the military’s rules. Chaplains who insist on evangelizing in public services are not victims of discrimination, but instead are infringing on the religious rights of others. It’s that simple. Private, denominational services are different although arguably they shouldn’t be suggesting that non-believers are going to Hell.

    The reason Bush probably isn’t willing to sign an executive order is because he knows it would undermine authority and potentially violate the UCMJ. He may be indebted to religious conservatives, but he commands a military that includes non-believers, Muslims, Jews, and Methodists.

  • tmatt

    Several problems:

    * The military cannot afford to have chaplains from every single faith at every single base or on every ship. So there is a real bind here. As the military grows more diverse, they have to ask chaplains to work in a variety of faith settings.

    * That being said, there is no way to have a Baptist pastor lead a Catholic Mass. So at some point, they cannot force chaplains to violate their consciences. That is what this is about.

    * I am well aware that there are no First Amendment rights in the military. However, that being the case, it still does not give military leaders the right to establish a tax-dollar-funded universalist state religion.

  • Mark

    This is true. I made reference to that in my post, that there’s a really good reason why we omit references to a specific deity in public: It cannot seem as though we are “establishing” a religion or even promoting one over others.

    It is true that a Baptist cannot lead a Catholic Mass. Even I can’t, and I don’t call far from the R.C. tree. But it is important to note that chaplains may disobey certain orders in certain circumstances. It is not legal to order a chaplain to violate any tenent of his or her faith or denomination. So if I believe I must pray in Jesus’ name (as a Christian), and I am ordered to pray in public and omit that name, I can refuse (respectfully, one hopes). Further, such refusal is not to have negative impact on one’s career.

    Chaplains serve at the whim of their denomination, so you have to keep that denomination happy by working within their rules. However if those rules tell you to always mention your deity in public, then you can choose not to so pray.

    I am just worried that if certain chaplains cause enough of a fuss over this the government may say, “Fine, we made a mistake letting you join up in the first place. We don’t really need chaplains.” And believe me, we need chaplains.

  • Daniel

    I agree that chaplains will be asked to work in a variety of faith settings, which means Jewish and Muslim military members shouldn’t have to participate in services where Evengalicals have suggested they are going to hell if they don’t accept Jesus. The reality of the military is that your individual identity must take a back seat to your military identity.

    I understand the concern of Evangelical chaplains who feel their consciences are sacrificed, but maybe the reality is that they don’t belong in the military if they can’t put the broader needs of the military over their religious beliefs that may undercut the military mission.

    As for a universalist state religion, it’s a pretty broad exaggeration. Religious diffferences are accommodated and recognized, but only to the point that they don’t harm the mission of the military. When those differences, however, undermine the mission, the military comes first. Given the broad diversity of the chaplaincy, it’s hard to see how there is a universalist state religion. I don’t see how telling chaplains to be more neutral and tolerant in public settings means that universalism is a threat, especially given the prevelance of religious conservatives in the military.

  • Mark

    Agreed again. It sounds terrible when I say it, but perhaps some chaplains might be better off in other careers. Missionary or parish work, perhaps. I do not intend to be mean or harsh, but that is what discernment is all about, not only determining where God wants you, but also findiing a place where you can live out your call to the best of your ability.

    Missionary life, parish life… They all have some limits, some factors that control how we live out our ministries. They all ask different things of us, all demand special gifts. No one is better than the others, and the trick is finding the one where you can best serve.

    Another disclaimer: I do not believe that a chaplain has to put the military over his or her individual belief (see previous comment). We cannot do that. We serve God, our church, then the military. If we fail to meet the demands of our church we lose endorsement and are no longer chaplains. (Hence that loophole I mentioned.) If beinga military chaplain, though, constantly puts you at odds with your church, then you probably aren’t in the right place.

  • Daniel

    I agree with your last point, Mark. Thanks for the clarification.

  • Gary McClellan

    This is the reason that I never even considered becoming a Chaplain when I was in Seminary, even though I came from a military family. If anything, it was because I came from a military family, and had already heard about the limitations.

    It comes down to the question of who your highest loyalty goes to. To my mind, it has to be to God and the Truth, not to the dictates of the military.

  • Mark

    Ah, but there’s also the matter of call. My call, as in from God, has been clearly to serve the men and women of the armed forces. So in so doing, and in enduring the limits this entails, am I not being loyal to God’s plan for my life?

    This goes both ways, in that not everyone is called to military chaplaincy. Out of a graduating class of around 25 people, I was the only one who felt that call or even felt comfortable in this setting. So we all listen for that call and honor it as best we are able.

    That, I think, is the wonderful thing about this business. There are so many ways to serve God!

  • Daniel

    There’s often been a call that the military isn’t a place for social experimentation. When we use affirmative action and put women in combat positions, that was criticized for social experimentation that hurts the military. The same has been sad for preventing gays and lesbians to serve openly. The military has to balance pressures from the outside with the realities of military life.

    There is already a percption in the military that we are top-heavy with Evangelicals and Fundamentalists and thus we have to strive hard to create a balance to respect the interests of those who don’t fall into those categories. The military is often balancing how to create an environment that is respectful to all so that everyone can work to the peak potential. Sometimes, however, that requires sacrifice.

    As Mark point out, that can happen if you can understand the military’s value and perspective. That’s what is asked of the chaplaincy.

  • Mark


    And yes, we are “top heavy” in the fundamental/evangelical category right now. I suspect that is one reason why this topic is starting to break right now. It also explains why the military is tightening regulations a bit on us. The more evangelicals we get, the more likely one or more is going to do something that crosses the line far enough or often enough to get noticed.

    I wonder, too, if the “peak” of these groups of late is giving these chaplains the courage to try fighting for their “rights.” There does seem to be a lot about fundamental/evangelical groups in the news lately, so maybe they’re taking advantage of all that.

  • Holger

    Just to jump in on this topic. A friend of mine made me aware of this forum. Above it was denied that a Baptist could conduct a RC mass in the military. Well, here’s some anecdotal evidence that he might be able to do that: I heard several times when I lived in Germany that a Jewish rabbi was ordered to conduct a general Protestant service and that, yes, he did not fail to obey his orders.
    From a couple of years around military chaplains, I agree with Daniel: the military comes first in the military. If you can’t conform yourself to that — well, there are plenty of other places for you to serve. Also consider that base duty to broadly organized denominational chapels is only one aspect of the chaplaincy. What do you do in a combat situation if you are Christian and a Muslim soldier asks you for comfort in his religion? It seems to me, if you are in that situation you can’t deny that comfort, or? Would that result in a court martial?

  • Rick

    Mark said (much earlier):
    >believe me, we need chaplains.

    But why, based on the primacy being granted military authority here? For military people the loyalty to military goals is understood to trump all others, correct? So in what way is the value of spiritual leadership by chaplains being understood? As patronizing decoration? Or as something vital to the well-being of the men and women in service? And if it is vital, why the effort to sap it of individuality and specificity?

    To make an awkward analogy, the military wants everyone to be blind to the gender and race of the individuals serving. If we can let, for example, a black woman General stand in front of the troops and insist that the only thing to be noticed is the fact that there is a General standing there… why can’t we let a chaplain pray according to their faith, and simply say, there is a spiritual leader there, end of story?

    I recognize the analogy is imperfect. I ask the question anyway.

  • Mark

    I would defer the question of need to any service person out there. The non-chaplains are the ones who “use” (for lack of a better term) the services of the chaplains, and might have a better answer than I would.

    From my view point, the need is this: The military asks a lot of those who serve. The decisions they have to make are far from easy, and carry a heavy burden on both the head and the heart. While one could go to a counselor to talk, many choose to come to the chaplains. Perhaps that is just a predisposition on some people’s part towards talking to a “priest” or “pastor.” Perhaps it is the fact that chaplains are the only people in the military who have absolute confidentiality (we cannot be ordered to reveal anything that was said to us in confidence, not even in court… not even the lawyers have that complete level of privlidge). Perhaps it is the fact that the stresses in the military lead people to seek the kind of answers that lead them to look beyond themselves, to a higher power.

    No matter what, I know that people do seek us out. They come with real needs, real concerns. And I would very much hate to take away that refuge, that haven where they can come and unburden themselves.

    I have also seen that the presence of a chaplain often makes people in leadership positions think some more about options. I have heard stories that soldiers, sailors, and airmen with strong faith often make better choices, even in the “heat of the moment.” So that faith is worth supporting and nurturing.

    My own call is as a visible reminder of the sacred to the men and women of the armed forces. A reminder that God does not abandon anyone, and is there with them no matter what.

    Holger: I’m curious to know more about a Jewish chaplain serving Baptists. I know that disobeying that order would be legal. I also have heard (I have not deployed) that the closer you get to the front lines the more some disticntions get blurred. But the stories I have heard indicate that it wasn’t so much a case of a chaplain being “forced” to do something. More that the chaplain saw a need that was not being filled and made a personal choice to fill it for the sake of the troops. Such a decision is between that chaplain and his or her church and God. It might very well cost a chaplain their endorsement later on, but that’s the price they would have to consider in that moment.

    Of course, every day chaplains counsel and work alongside people of different denominations and faiths. I would have no trouble talking with a Jewish airman and then offering to pray at the conclusion. I might add that “I know we have different beliefs, but I also know that we both pray and that if you are okay with it, I would like to pray with you now.” I probably wouldn’t include “Jesus” in that prayer (at least out loud), but I would certainly mention God.

    Hope that helps.

  • Mark

    Oh, and the major difference between what I just mentioned and a public prayer tends to be the mandatory nature of public gatherings. When you require someone to be there, and then have a specific prayer, the government looks upon that as “establishment,” and a violation of the constitution.

    I have heard that sometimes, at smaller, personal gatherings (say a retirement ceremony, for example), a chaplain is specifically asked to pray as a Christan (I assume it happens for other faiths as well, I’m speaking from my experience as a Christian). I am not sure what the outcome of those situations has been.

  • Victor Morton


    Apples and oranges on the rabbi.

    The Baptists don’t have any notion of a sacramental liturgy or priesthood. In principle at least, any man could preach at a Baptist service.**

    On the other hand, the Catholic Church teaches that God calls certain men only to the priesthood, that the Church ordains them as such, that the men become different persons as a result, and that God acts through them as instruments in performing the miracle of the Mass. Only a Catholic priest can perform a Mass, not a Baptist (or a Jew).

    ** I don’t mean to suggest that Baptists are indifferent or don’t have any concept of ordination. Merely that denominational status is not an inherent issue for them because of their completely different understanding of what a church service is, what a minister is, and, ultimately, what the church is.

  • Jake Tribble

    Saturday January 28, 2006
    I have read all of these comments, and have come to 1 conclusion. Both sides appear resolved that religion, in the context of faith in 1 God, should be as 1 free from government control, and NO single religious faith preempted over another. I just wonder, about just this 1 thing, When a man or woman enlists into the military, don’t they take an oath to protect the liberties of freedom? I nonetheless know a greater debate looms, in regard to, In God We Trust, and other areas, such as prayer in the Legislature sessions, and our right to assembly but one must also remember, as a citizen, you can opt out of such gatherings without fear of reprisal, from either your religious denomination or government service or both. My point being, the left is adamant that personal civil liberities override any global declaration of protections, under the law as they understand it. You can choose not to serve due to religious conscience, or serve and agree to bend your personal faith to meet regulation. A hard decision at best for both sides, left or right. You see, we all can have concerns about which direction our nation as a whole is or should be taking, but again, as a Christian, we are here for only a short time, yet we are citizens of a far greater kingdom or nation that will in the end be victorious!
    God Bless America!

  • Jake Tribble

    Saturday January 28, 2006

    Once again, our stand as Believers in Christ, left or right must always be totally and uncompromisingly based[grounded] upon sound doctrine and principles that are contained within God’s WORD, and not based on any government decree. Thus, military service is a choice of the individual, and where the question seems to be blurred is where does liberty, freedom and justice in Christ fall within the boundaries of liberty, freedom and justice for all within government law?
    I must say this, a question of this magnitude must be or can only be answered only in the heart of each believing person depending on that person’s personal faith and belief!
    A Christian knows that Jehovah God does not allow service or worship of other gods, PERIOD! or the acceptance of their follower’s practices, writings or doctrines regardless of how morally acceptable they are. PERIOD!
    Although our Constitution, in a far reaching way, more or less demands that other religions be allowed protection, we as Believers in Christ are afforded the civil right to abstain from participating, but unable to confront or proselize because of imposed hate crime legislation and laws that seem now to supercede our freedom of religious expression based on personal conviction, also protected by these same laws.
    I have every right to believe in extreme, God’s WORD, in every literal sense of liberty, freedom and expression.
    Where does all this lead us? Down a path of individual acceptance, or one of corporate destruction internally?
    Freedom? Liberty? Justice? Pursuit of happiness? Fearless expression of worship?
    Rest assured, God is still on HIS throne and in complete control!

  • Sara Horn

    I covered this story a couple of weeks ago on, the faith-based military news site I publish, and the biggest issue I take with it is the lack of research that’s been done by Christian journalists reporting this story.

    It’s true that the mainstream media has ignored this issue almost completely, but the Christian media haven’t done it justice either, because most have quoted the evangelical episcopal chaplain’s words and opinions only. They haven’t talked with other Navy evangelical chaplains, and they haven’t talked with the Navy themselves. They took this chaplain’s complaint at face value without checking the facts and what they’ve done I believe is far more damaging because Christians are taking the word of the Christian media to heart and thinking that our military is pushing out Christianity, which is far from the case though I know there are individuals and groups who would like to see that happen one day.

    You can find all of the links to the stories and columns I did here on my blog.

    One of the Navy chaplains I interviewed for the story I did on AGF said he got a call from an elderly lady who was so upset she was in tears at the thought he wasn’t being allowed to pray in Jesus’ name. He assured her that he has prayed and has been allowed to pray in the name of Jesus the entire time he’s been in the Navy, 15 years worth.

    An executive order would enforce not only the rights of Christian military chaplains to specifically pray in the name of Jesus, but it would also allow Muslims to pray in the name of Allah or Buddhists to pray in the name of Buddha, signifying that all gods are one and the same. As Christians, we know different.

  • Daniel

    Sara makes a good point. The Christian/Conservative media has accepted the word of a whistleblower without understanding his own baggage or the idea that he could be wrong . . . very wrong. I realize that journalists like whistleblowers, especially ones that go on hunger strikes, but whistleblowers are not alwyas truth-tellers and sometimes are just self-serving individuals with an axe to grind. One look at the chaplain’s website should have been a giant red flag to any journalist.

    It’s also clear that the media covering the story really don’t understand the military. Just like people who don’t respect and understand religion shouldn’t cover religion, maybe religion reporters who don’t respect and understand the military should cover the military.

  • tmatt

    Lots of interesting comments. Let me add:

    * Does refusal to use generic public prayers hurt a chaplain’s career? This is precisely what scores of evangelicals are saying.

    * Is the military prepared to go into a future in which evangelical parents, schools and churches do not want to send their young people into a universalist, generic-faith military? Do most military people come from liberal homes or conservative?

    * The heart of this problem is that the military must choose. It can either use tax dollars to fund chaplains whose beliefs will offend others or it can use tax dollars to fund a generic faith, universalist military chaplains program that is clearly a violation of the separation of church and state.

    Those are the options. Both will offend someone. There is no safe option, in the current atmosphere.

    It would seem that freedom of conscience is the safest course. If the military cannot find a way to make that work, then it can prepare to explain its stance to a large number of American voters and people who have, in the past, been pro-military.

  • Mark

    Agreed, and I think that’s what set me off in the first place, the fact that we’re seeing only one side of this in the news. And the public is taking it for granted that all Christian chaplains are suffering under the yoke of government oppression. Based on the Chaplains I know, this isn’t the case. But no one has interviewed any of those.

    It has been a good discussion all, many thanks!

  • Sara Horn

    I have to take issue with the statement “scores of evangelicals.” I have not seen the numbers that back this up and I think it’s easy to make exaggerations but I think it’s important to examine the facts.

    The editor of a denominational news wire questioned my “angle” of the story and cited that there were 2,000 evangelical chaplains who were part of this suit. Looking into this, the number was 2,000 because the case had been expanded to include complaints as far back as the 1970s which to me does not show that there is a rampant discrimination of evangelicals, more like a handful of isolated cases each year.

    I appreciated Daniel’s point when he said that most journalists, like civilians, don’t understand the military. I have been covering military stories for almost 3 years, and there’s still quite a bit I have to learn. That’s why I went to several different Navy chaplains, though all evangelicals, and a couple of Army chaplains as well for comparison, to understand this case.

    One of the things I learned that I didn’t know before was about fitreps. Fitreps are fitness reports for Navy officers (this also includes Navy chaplains)that identify advancement, retainment and future duty potential. These are extremely important because they are the documents reviewed by promotion boards when considering whether to advance an officer’s rank.

    But something most people probably don’t know is that chaplains can only be passed over twice for promotion before they are asked to leave the Navy. Considering that the current Navy system consists of many Lieutenants and Lieutenant Commanders, fewer Commanders, still fewer Captains, and only two Admirals, it was described to me as being almost like a lottery when you attempt to be promoted.

    I think it’s easy to throw the label “religious discrimination” around but this may be more of an issue with how promotions are made than the faith of the chaplain facing a promotion board.

    There are other issues in these fitreps of chaplains that may be more relevant than the religious discrimination they claim. The whole story is not being revealed.

    I have a lot more I’d like to say about the importance of faith in the military and the fact that I DON’T think evangelical parents should worry about letting their children join, but I’ll reserve it for my blog and what I had planned to post for Monday.

    I’ve enjoyed the discussion!

  • Daniel

    Evangelicals concerned about a “universalist” military just need to be show the chaplain’s office on any base aound the world, where there are multiple religious services every week of every shape and size. Protestant services include Spiritual services, Charasmatic, Evangelical, Pentocostal, and Mainline, as well as Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim. IOW, a “universalist” military is hogwash and is a statement that can only be said by someone who doesn’t spend much time with the military.

    use tax dollars to fund a generic faith, universalist military chaplains program that is clearly a violation of the separation of church and state.

    That’s a great red meat argument, but is completely removed from the reality of First Amendment law and the reality of the military (as if such a concern would apply to the military in the first place). The Supreme Court has consistently said the more neutral the religious speech, the more acceptable it is under church/state doctrine. Too much Jesus talk, not too little, is what raises First Amendment concens when paid for by the government.

  • tmatt


    You are avoiding my arguments and constructing straw men.

    Of course I know there are many different services on bases. That is not the issue.

    The issue is public prayer and the creation of a state-funded, enforced prayer language. And the chaplains in the original lawsuit insist that their refusal to accept the universalist language in those public prayers is preventing their promotion.

    Thus, the issue is whether — to remain a military chaplain — one must be willing to — in tax-funded settings — pray prayers that conflict with the doctrines of the faith in which you are ordained.

    Like I said, you can tax-fund offensive diversity or you can tax-fund universalism. The problem is that the latter is clearly entanglement in the details of religion.

    Or, as I said earlier, you simply eliminate chaplains altogether.

  • Michael

    I’ve written about the chaplain’s lawsuit for my full-time job, and I think there are a number of issues getting blended and blurred. The lawsuit is primarily about promotions, and only secondarily about “enforced prayer language.” The basic argument is that Evangelicals and Pentocostals are denied promotions because the decision-makers are entrenched Catholic, Episcopal, and Mainline chaplains. In other words, there is an old-boys network that is keeping out the perceived minority. In that way, it’s no different from a case based on race or gender.

    Underlying their arguments is that the “old boys network” doesn’t appreciate the way they do their jobs. Certainly, in that perception may be a belief that there is “enforced prayer language” but that hasn’t been explicitely said by the plaintiffs. In fact, most of their evidence is stastical.

    As for how many are included, you have to understand class action law. This is an “opt-out” class, which means that every potential class member is included even if they want to participate or not or believed you’ve been aggrieved or not, or even agree. Thus, any Evangelical chaplain is in the class of 2000 whether they want to be or not. It is only AFTER the case is settled or well into the litigation that class members will be given a chance to “opt-out” and not participate. So, a class of 2000 is likely built on as small of a group as 50 people or less who have actual, alleged gripes.

  • Michael

    “Thus, the issue is whether — to remain a military chaplain — one must be willing to — in tax-funded settings — pray prayers that conflict with the doctrines of the faith in which you are ordained.”

    Actually, that’s not the issue. The issue is whether in public, non-denominational settings where you are respresenting the military, you are expected to give neutral prayers like chaplains in every legislature in the country, or whether–when speaking for the government at the government’s dime–you can promote a specific religion to the discrimination of others.

    Chaplains give prayers that are consistent with the doctrines of their faith every day in the military, but not in public, non-denominational settings. In public chapel services–which are paid for through tax dollars–as well as in counseling sessions and private meetings with military members and their families, they are free to use as much “Jesus” or “Allah” talk as they want. And are encouraged to do it. On the tax-payers dime.

    The only accommodation that is asked is that when they speak at public, non-denominational events, they be more neutral. That is consistent with First Amendment law and separation of church and state jurisprudence, as well the mission of the military. Military members shouldn’t be forced to sit in public, non-denominational settiings and listen to prayers which condemn them, their faith, or their beliefs by suggesting that only those who accept Christ are going to heaven or that Allah is the only path to rigtheousness.

    As others have pointed out, there is even some doubt about your conclusion that chaplains are punished for refusing to be neutral. We have a chaplain who has posted here who says the opposite is true and a blogger who has spoken to Navy chaplains who says the opposite is true.

  • tmatt

    Michael writes:

    “Thus, the issue is whether — to remain a military chaplain — one must be willing to — in tax-funded settings — pray prayers that conflict with the doctrines of the faith in which you are ordained.”

    Actually, that’s not the issue. The issue is whether in public, non-denominational settings where you are respresenting the military, you are expected to give neutral prayers like chaplains in every legislature in the country, or whether—when speaking for the government at the government’s dime—you can promote a specific religion to the discrimination of others.


    Vague, multi-faith prayers are also a “specific prayer” that discriminates against the views of others. That is what you are not seeing. An enforced universalism is also a form of entanglement, just as a state-funded evangelicalism would be. There is no safe choice.

    Let’s flip the issue to another faith.

    Michael, do you believe it is in the national security interest of the USA to force Muslim chaplains to pray prayers that violate their faith and for that information to be reported in media that can be read by Islamists?

  • Michael

    But multi-faith prayers are endorsed by the Supreme Court because of their neutrality. I wish you luck in your lawsuit arguing that multi-faith prayer–in our mutl-faith, diverse society–are somehow an entanglement. My fear is that the result of such a lawsuit would be that all prayer would disappear from the public sphere.

    I am not that worried about national security and Muslim chaplains should be free to pray Muslims prayers in Muslim services that occur on military bases all over the world, including in Iraq. They are free to do that, in fact, just as Baptists can preach about the need to be born again, Catholics can attend masses, Jews can attend services, and black Evangelicals can attend services consistent with that faith tradition. It happens every day on every military base in the world.

    The military is just asking in non-denomination settings that chaplains give prayers which respect the diveristy of the military and the line between public endorsement of a specific religion where Christians overwhelmingly dominate all other religions. Just as Congress asks chaplains to give neutral services, the SUpreme Court starts with a neutral mention of God, and government bodies all over the country use mult-faith prayers.

  • Sara Horn

    Michael, you’re making some great points. There is a fine line between asking a chaplain to pray in a manner appropriate for a public setting and then asking a chaplain to completely disavow their own specific faith. You’re not doing the second when you’re asking for the first.

    And we’re not even talking worship services here. Generally, a public prayer is for a ceremony of some type that has a requirement that everyone must attend, so it’s not a voluntary option.

    There are many chaplains who close a prayer with “in the name of Jesus” but they precede it by saying something like “as you pray in your faith tradition, allow me to pray in mine.” Other chaplains will close with a scripture verse and they feel very secure that people know who they’re talking to, as do they.

  • Avram

    Thus, the issue is whether — to remain a military chaplain — one must be willing to — in tax-funded settings — pray prayers that conflict with the doctrines of the faith in which you are ordained.

    Wait, are Evangelicals actually forbidden from praying without mentioning Jesus? If an Evangelical prays a generic prayer — “Lord help us!” or something — has he sinned?

    It looks to me like the issue is the uncomfortable situation created by a military in which people of diverse faiths (or none) are compelled to come together in a religious service. That seems like a situation that requires a form of generic universalism, and a chaplain who’s not willing to fulfill that requirement shouldn’t be trying to do that job, any more than a pacifist should be working as a sniper.

    Another alternative would be doing away with public prayer ceremonies. I don’t know enough about the military and these ceremonies to know how practical that would be.

  • Daniel

    Some excellent points. I think it ultimately comes down to how much potential harassment must military members endure for the sake of religoius freedom.

    Imagine being a non-Christian who just finished an 18-hour shift and is required to attend an all-hands meeting. At that meeting, the hon-Christian must now sit through a prayer suggesting that if she doesn’t accept Jesus as her savior, she is going to hell (which is the worse thing possible, according to the chaplain) and then inviting her to accept Christ. Should a military member have to endure such prostyletizing and harrassment just because Evangalicals believe they have to prostyeltize?

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