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Navy Chaplain May Face Court-Martial For Praying in Uniform

It's happening again.

NORFOLK, Va. -- A chaplain stationed at Naval Station Norfolk said he could face court-martial for praying in uniform outside the White House.

Lt. Gordon Klingenschmitt said he prayed at a March 30 protest opposing Department of Defense rules forbidding military chaplains from invoking the name of Jesus Christ.

He's accused of violating an order not to appear in uniform at news conferences in support of personal or religious issues.

The issue seems to hinge on whether his praying at the event was permissible participation at a bona fide religious service. Klingenschmitt is rejecting non-judicial punishment in favor of trial by court-martial

In addition, he's filing a complaint against the Navy claiming the threat of punishment against him amounts to religious harassment and he's appealing to the White House to end what he claims are the military's attempts to take reprisals against a whistle-blower.

We tiptoe around other religions like Islam for fear of offending Muslims, but Christianity and the Christians who practice it are still open to public denigration.

Comments (13)

As a Christian, I can sympa... (Below threshold)

As a Christian, I can sympathize with the Chaplin. But I think the rule on not active duty personnel not appearing in uniform for personal or religeous issue is the rule. Should we have it is up for debate, but not whether it is a rule. When you take the king's shilling, you agree to abide by the rules. He could have attended the demonstration in civilian clothes. He could have even made up a T-shirt that said "I'm a navy chaplin and the great satan won't let me pray". He could write letters and personally lobby his congress critters. But if you start letting serving military to disobey rules because their religeous concience moves them, why can't the muslim who fragged his officers get the same exception. I know that one is a peaceful protest and the other is attempted murder, but they are both rules being violated because the religeous concience tells them to.

This is a tough one for me.... (Below threshold)

This is a tough one for me.

I am not a religious person so he being Christian isn't an issue for me. I am former military and all I can say is it was clear way back then that appearing at any function of a religious or political nature in uniform was a no-no. Chapel services were exempt.

Against him---well, he was ordered not to do this and he disobeyed. He is exercising his right to court martial, but he is hoping to fight a long standing tradition in the military by judicial means and that has always failed. The UCMJ at a military trial is not on TV law programs (JAG included).

He disobeyed an order. Period. His only hope is to prove the order was an illegal one.

If he can prove that other denominations are not subjected to the same restrictions and only those of Christian faith are so restricted then he wins hands down.

He could have avoided the whole thing by simply not wearing his uniform when leading the prayer at the protest. Since he had been specifically ordered not to do he knew doing so would get him in trouble. The Navy would have no choice and he knew that. This isn't a case of a chaplain leading what he thought was an innocent prayer and finding out he violated an obscure rule. He walked into this with his chip on his shoulder knowing the Navy would have to knock it off.

I carry little sympathy for him in that regard. On the other hand, if he truly feels the order was illegal and can prove it then his actions are understandable, and in some respects, it is his duty to challenge the order.

The Navy allows chaplain... (Below threshold)

The Navy allows chaplains to pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Allah or any other deity during chapel services, Navy spokeswoman Lt. Erin Bailey said.

True or false? If true, the nature of the gig is that the Navy can tell this guy what to do outside of that setting, and if he doesn't want to do it, they can court-martial him, for all I care.

If he can't pray in Jesus' name during services, then, may I say, just one more time glorious time: FTN.

I retired from the Navy 10 ... (Below threshold)

I retired from the Navy 10 years ago. Chaplains, whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian(Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical, Lutheran, Presbyterian....whatever) Are free to pray as they like while holding religious services.

While serving as a Chaplain to any general population of Military members, they are asked to keep their prayers non-denominational... as a Jew I see that as an entirely reasonable request. The Chaplain in question takes offense at that policy.

Chaplains are frequently asked to offer public prayer at general formal, and non-formal occasions. I saw it as a requirement of the job to be sensitive and tolerant of everyone's spiritual and religious needs. Some Christian chaplains have a problem with that... it seems, to me, logical that they should not be chaplains. Using the Chaplains uniform to advocate for a particular denomination or belief goes against the spirit of that uniform...

The <a href="http://yankees... (Below threshold)

The rules on demonstrating and political speech by service members in uniform are clear, and I have no doubt that Klingenschmitt knew that when he took part in this stunt. I know an officer who served with him on the ship that finally got him media attention, and another chaplain that went through chaplains' school with him, and they both are of the opinion that he intended to pick this fight when he came in the Navy.

Oh, and right now he's only scheduled to go to "admiral's mast", which is not a judicial proceeding, but since he's not assigned to a ship, he can decline mast and request a court-martial. Punishment at mast is limited to small fines and/or short ( less than 60 days) confinement to quarters.

Kim, you are not allowed to... (Below threshold)

Kim, you are not allowed to express political speech or demonstrate while in uniform. Period. Doing so implies support for said cause from the Service, not just the individual. (When you wear the uniform, you become a full-blown representative of said Service.) The chaplain knew this; it's covered in basic training. I want to sympathise with him, but it's hard to. Your article suffers from scope creep. It's not about him praying. I prayed in uniform at a shipmate's funeral. The issue is attending a demonstration while in uniform.

This self-centered creep ne... (Below threshold)

This self-centered creep needs to be outed, then keel-hauled and given a general discharge at least, better to be making little rocks out of big rocks at Leavenworth for a year or two. He wants to be a martyr, I say let him have his wishes. Maybe he can bunk with Moussaoui and try to convert him.

As noted above, he's violating military laws knowingly, hoping to generate some public opinion to mitigate his punishment and make his evangelical statement.

The best punishment would be swift and deny him any public displays.

I guess I don't completely ... (Below threshold)

I guess I don't completely understand what the problem is. If he is a chaplain, telling him not to use the name of Jesus Christ is like telling a plumber to describe his work without using the words "water" and "pipe". It sounds like there is some more information missing from the story since it's just doesn't make sense.

"you are not allowed to exp... (Below threshold)

"you are not allowed to express political speech or demonstrate while in uniform. Period."

There are many things that make me proud of my country, but right near the top is the way the Joint Chiefs of Staff behave at the State of the Union address. While the politicians applaud and sometimes stand to show their pleasure or displeasure with the President's words, the uniformed citizens sit and listen, they are there for all of us.
I believe in a thriving and well trained Chaplins corps in our military. I would think that most atheists would agree, especially after watching "We Were Soldiers". I also understand that a Chaplain has to be there for all of the servicemen, of every faith or lack thereof.

President Truman had no idea that Dwight Eisnehower was a Republican until after he retired from the military. That is America!

Just my opinion, but Lt. Klingenschmitt needs to follow the regs.

What say you, Kim? Has any ... (Below threshold)

What say you, Kim? Has any of this changed your opinion?

Get the facts before you de... (Below threshold)

Get the facts before you decide, here:

The chaplain had prior written permission from his command (and Navy Uniform Regs) to wear his uniform at this event, provided he limit his remarks to only prayers, which he obeyed. It's an open and shut case, and the chaplain will win.

I don't know who advised hi... (Below threshold)

I don't know who advised him to opt for a Special Court Martial over Captain's Mast, but he's playing with fire. A conviction at a Special Court Martial is much more serious, a federal offense. If convicted, this will follow him for the rest of his life. A Mast conviction, on the other hand, is more like a misdemeanor. A conviction in either setting will prompt a Show Cause Hearing which may well end his military service with an unfavorable discharge not to mention fines. If he were wise, he would resign his commission and cut his losses. He will have much more freedom as a civilian to do what he pleases, although he'll have to find some type of employment to support himself and his family while he lobbies. Right now, the tax payers are footing that bill.

I just looked at Klingensch... (Below threshold)

I just looked at Klingenschmitt's web site persuade.tv and could find no evidence of "prior written permission" to wear his uniform at a public protest. However, what I did find is a guy who's at war with everyone it seems. Here's a short list of the targets of his complaints:

Secretary of the Navy
Navy Chief of Chaplains
CO of his ship
CO of his current command
Various Senior Chaplains
Various Public Affairs Officers
Various JAGS
Air Force Chaplaincy
Several newspapers
Air Force Academy Advisors

Seems to me he needs to find another venue for his work because the military isn't the wrong place for him.






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