Forum on the Military Chaplaincy

committed to free and diverse religious expression

CaptUSMC On January - 8 - 2015

An Open Letter to Endorser Rabbi Yosef Todd

Dear Rabbi Yosef Todd,

I so appreciate your taking the time and energy to attempt to rally our fellow endorsers. Unfortunately, I cannot agree with your stance and that of a number of our colleagues. Please allow me to explain.

Getting directly to the point, the military chaplaincy exists first and foremost to “perform and/or provide [facilitate] for the free exercise of religion” for military personnel and their families. Because of military necessity — and sometimes due to their location – some service members and their families are unable to attend worship services of their respective faith or worldview. Of course, military chaplains are expected to perform services in these instances, or refer to [human] resources who do. And in addition to worship services, the chaplain performs rites, rituals, and sacraments according to his/her faith tradition.

Indeed, in situations where spiritual care is sought by the service member who is of a different faith or no faith at all, the chaplain is still obligated to care for all while respecting the context for their services within a pluralistic context (DoDI 1304.28 (6.1.2.)). Serving with absolute respect for all while maintaining ministry boundaries which protect service members, yet not violating the chaplain’s conscience nor their faith community’s requirements is a professional ability required and practiced by military chaplains. If a chaplain cannot so serve, s/he should not be a chaplain. Military chaplaincy is neither a provincial pastorate (nor equivalent office) nor an evangelistic missionary office and role.

Current statistics identify 20% of all Americans as having no religious affiliation. Some of these folks are likely intentional atheists, freethinkers, and secular humanists. Up until 2011, the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces (NCMAF) Code of Ethics referenced a point that chaplains “reserve the right to evangelize the unaffiliated.” This sentiment could be construed as in conflict with good order and discipline practices and the desire for the Department of Defense to allow service members to practice freely but further, not to be compelled to practice at all, or even be required to listen to religious speech. “The DoD places a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all. It protects the civil liberties of its personnel and the public to the greatest extent possible, consistent with its military requirements, in accordance with DoD Instruction (DoDI) 1000.29I” (DoDI 1300.17, (4.a.)). Unfortunately, due to just such attempts to evangelize, the DoD had to update that DoDI just last January with that precise language to discourage such attempts at the evangelization of non-theistic personnel. These service members must be free to attend required formations, ceremonies, and training sessions without being compelled to participate in or endure religious speech or presentations.

In the history-making case, Katcoff/Wieder v. Marsh (Dept. of Army), argued by your fellow Rabbi, Israel Drazin, in 1984, he successfully defended the Armed Forces’ chaplaincy before the US Supreme Court ( ). I heard him speak of the case at the Army Chaplains School at Fort Monmouth in the 1980s. As previously stated, the “right” of practicing one’s beliefs and convictions belongs to the lay military members first and foremost — as they are compelled to be where they are ordered to do the military’s work. Chaplains voluntarily choose to so serve and under various militarily needful conditions.

Ultimately, as pointed out at a NCMAF session in a plenary panel discussion about a decade ago, the case was made that the right to practice their “rites” belong to the lay military member (and their families) — NOT to the chaplain. If the chaplain is uncomfortable with what s/he is being asked to do (or not do), s/he is expected to refer the task to another chaplain. If chaplains find themselves repeatedly uncomfortable with that which they are asked to do (or not do), they may resign their commission or request their endorsing body to pull their endorsement, leaving the chaplaincy. The service member (or their family) does not have that ability. In short, the chaplaincy’s sole Constitutional purpose is that chaplains are there to serve — not to get the chaplains’ nor the chaplains’ faith community’s agenda(s) across to the military. This is long-established policy.

Chaplains who claim that their rights to free expression are being violated are missing the point that is being made by Rabbi Drazin, the ruling of the US Supreme Court, Title 10, DoDI 1000.29, DoDI 1300.17 and respective instructions in force in each branch of service. Even now, scholars are publishing papers which raise concerns about issues that the Katcoff/Wieder v. Marsh (Dept. of Army) challenge raised to chaplaincy and are proposing the creation of a new framework for making the military chaplaincy more Constitutional. A year ago, this was published: .

Additionally, as a senior chaplain recently reminded me, chaplaincy and the chaplaincy program of an installation — or even of a small military unit or ship “in the middle of nowhere” — are not “owned” by the chaplain(s). Nor is it owned by the Chaplain Corps. It is owned, in all three service branches, by the command. And all chaplains work for a command. Chaplains administer the command religious program on behalf of the commanding officer. Hence all chaplains are staff corps officers, subject to their command and their command’s guidance. Again, if chaplains find themselves regularly at odds with performing or providing for the religious/spiritual needs of that command, or with administering their command’s directives — due to their own convictions or the requirements of their endorsing body — it may be time to reconsider their calling as military chaplains. The point is clear: The military chaplaincy does not exist to serve the needs and agendas of chaplains and their endorsing bodies.

I find it peculiar that some of our endorser colleagues are arguing that their chaplains and other Christian military leaders have a Constitutional right to attempt to evangelize whomever, wherever — and especially to target unaffiliated folks. And, when these chaplains and other military leaders are restricted from acting upon this notion, they cry foul. The document Clear and Present Danger( ) seems to be a good example of this. And the very recent response by the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Clear and Present Falsehoods ( ) pretty well dispatches the Danger document.

In conclusion, I am sure that it is with good intention that your faith group feels that it needs to produce a handbook of chaplains’ rights that specify what chaplains can and cannot do. It seems to me, however, that DoD has already done so and vetted it thru various Instructions and Regulations. To do further seems to me to be a matter of the tail wagging the dog. This is not just awkward, it is potentially dangerous to the very institution of military chaplaincy. Political pressures exerted rarely result in the intended benefit when it comes to the military, in my twenty-two years of experience as an endorser. Sooner or later pluralism, professional ethics, and a military chaplain scope of practice must be codified, but perhaps it would be best if the military does it, rather than Congressional committee [as we have seen a couple times this past year: and] or the courts.

Sincerely and respectfully, your endorser colleague,

Serving Independent Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Renewal Congregations
David B. Plummer
Coalition of Spirit-filled ChurchesPost Office Box 6606
Newport News, VA 23606-0606


—–Original Message—–
From: Pirchei Shoshanim
To: endorsers1
Sent: Mon, Dec 29, 2014 1:21 pm
Subject: [Endorsers1] A Guide to the Rights of the Military Chaplain

Dear Fellow Endorsers

Pirchei Shoshanim as Endorsers to the D.O.D. for the United States Armed Forces, are quite aware of the fact that in recent years there have been multiple cases of chaplains of all faith groups being subjected to criticism and/or disciplinary measures due to concerns about how they have chosen to incorporate their beliefs into their chaplaincy. The recent incident involving United States Army Chaplain (Captain) Joseph Lawhorn, who received a Letter of Concern because he “used Christian scripture and solutions” during a suicide prevention training class, is just one such incident.

As Endorsers to the Military Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim believes that these incidents will have negative consequences on all military chaplains, on the choices they make and their ability to be effective representatives of their faiths. As such, we are embarking on a program to correct once and for all a systemic problem in the way that the chaplaincy is set up. Currently, cases are resolved on a seemingly ad-hoc basis, where one member of the military can complain about a particular action he or she finds offensive, and subject a chaplain whose performance has been stellar to months and years of heartache. Instead, we propose a forward thinking solution; the drafting of a Guide to the Rights of the Military Chaplain that will prospectively address what each and every chaplain can and cannot do or say. Such a Guide will both provide guidance to chaplains as they plan their services, and eliminate most frivolous complaints.

As such, we are requesting that each of you join us by submitting a letter detailing the concerns that you hope such a Guide will address. We will spend the next several months sorting through these letters and formatting the proposals into a set of proposed guidelines and regulations. To assist us, we have retained the services of Dr. Mark Goldfeder, Esq., Spruill Family Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, as Special Counsel. We also hope to work with as many non-profits and religious organizations as possible, to ensure that this list is comprehensive.

Please join us in this broad effort to protect the religious freedom of all service members and chaplains. Our mean and women in the field provide crucial assistance in the most strenuous circumstances. They are there to emphasize the importance of spiritual health and connectivity with faith community, and they cannot be shackled by having to constantly look over their shoulders. Please help up help them by submitting your list of concerns and proposals. We look forward to hearing from you.

Rabbi Yosef Todd
Endorsing Agent
Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim

Endorsing Agent of Chaplaincy Activities
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