Wednesday, December 21, 2005

In (Generic Deity's Name) We Pray, Amen

Lt Gordon Klingenschmitt is a Navy Chaplain. As of 20 December, he was holding a multi-day hunger strike in Washington, protesting recent restrictions on religious liberties in the U.S. military.

The Washington Times has details on Lt. Klingenschmitt's vigil, which is being held across the street from the White House. The Navy Chaplain says he is being fired because he prays in Jesus's names at public military events. According to Klingenschmitt, military chaplains are being trained to pray "only to God" during public prayers; references to Christ, the Virgin Mary, Allah, or the Trinity are strongly discouraged.

Klingenschmitt apparently got in trouble with his superiors in the summer of 2004, while assigned to the USS Anzio. During a funeral for a Catholic sailor in the base chaptel in Naples, Italy, Klingenschmitt delivered an evangelistic sermon that landed him a reprimand from two senior chaplains. Klingenschmitt was reassigned to shore duty in Norfolk, VA in March of this year. He claims he may be booted from the service next month, and evicted from military family housing.

Klingenschmitt's plight is not unique. More than 50 Christian chaplains filed lawsuits against the Navy (in 1999 and 2000), claiming the service discriminates against Pentecostal and evangelical clerics. The American Center for Law and Justice has mounted a petition campaign, asking President Bush to sign an executive order, allowing individual chaplains to pray according to their religious traditions. More than 70 members of Congress have joined the effort, noting "it is increasingly difficult [for chaplains] to use the name of Jesus while praying.

The Air Force has actually taken formal steps to encourage non-specific public prayers. A few months ago, the service issued guidelines allowing a "brief, non-sectarian prior before military add a sense of seriousness of solemnity, not to advance specific religious beliefs." The guidelines were implemented amid charges that non-evangelicals were discriminated against at the U.S. Air Force Academy. An investigation into those charges eventually led to the early retirement of the Academy superintendent, and the reassignment of the school's Commandant of Cadets (Brig Gen Johnny Weida), an evangelical Christian.

Advocates of these restrictions say that a prayer in the name of Jesus or Allah discriminates against those who hold other religious views. They also point out that Chaplains are free to pray according to their tradition in chapel services. But with approximately 80% of the nation's armed forces calling themselves Christians, so the number of potentially "offended" service members is rather low. You've also got to wonder how offended someone might be by a single mention of "Jesus" or "Allah" in a short prayer at the beginning or end of a military ceremony. Again, I'm guessing that number would be almost negligible.

But in today's politically-correct military, even a handful of complaints can make generals and senior officials sweat. In that environment, it's easy to toss out two centuries of military tradition (and 400 years of religious liberty), in the name of generic prayer. Secularists will complain (again) that the religious community is overracting, but I'm not so sure. The Rev. Billy Baugham, head of a Greenville, S.C. group that endorses evangelical chaplains, tells of a phone call he recently received from a chaplain in Iraq. The chaplain told Baugham "he'd be hammered" if he use Jesus's name in a prayer.

During the Battle of Bataan in World War II, another Army chaplain remarked (famously) that there were no atheists in foxholes. But there are plenty of secularists in today's military, and they appear determined to impose their belief structure on our military chaplain corps. And sadly, our military leadership is doing little to reverse that trend.

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