In My Right Mind

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Location: Universal City, Texas, United States

"A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take away everything you have." - Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Hand-cuffed Chaplains And The UCMJ

In a story found here, a Navy Chaplain is facing court martial charges for praying in uniform outside on the steps of the White House.

Lt. Gordon Klingenschmitt attended a protest organized outside the White House to protest the Department of Defense’s (DoD) policy on prayers that military chaplains can give. It is forbidden to make prayers in the name of Jesus Christ.

The charges levied against Klingenschmitt maintain that he violated orders issued to him forbidding him from participating in any public protest in uniform. Klingenschmitt disregarded the orders of the officers over him and attended the protest in uniform anyway.

Klingenschmitt, has rejected non judicial punishment and is asking for a trial by court martial. He is also bringing counter charges against the Navy claiming that the very threat of punishment against him constitutes religious harassment. He hopes the White House will step in and put an end to what he sees as the Navy’s attempt at getting even with a “whistle blower”.

Let me first say that as a Christian, I find the military’s politically correct posture of watering down its prayers so that no one is offended wrong and in violation of one's Constitutional rights. If a Christian chaplain wants to pray to his God, he should have every right to do that. The First Amendment guarantees him that right.

However, Lt Klingenschmitt is an officer in the Navy. He is responsible for following the guidelines and policies that his service branch and the DoD have published. Military members are bound by stricter laws and codes of conduct than civilians are. They are responsible to live under the dictates of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the various DOD and service specific regulations and policies.

Military members are forbidden to wear the uniform when participating in public speeches, interviews, picket lines, marches, or rallies or political events. This is to prevent any implication that the military supports the views and opinions of the individual attending such events.

Regardless of his convictions regarding the unfairness of the ban on mentioning the name of Jesus Christ in chaplains’ prayers, he was not at liberty to disregard military policy regarding the wear of the uniform in public protests. He swore an oath of allegiance at his commissioning as an officer in the Navy. In that oath he swore to obey the orders of the officers over him. Both officers and non-commissioned officers are responsible for upholding military standards and being a living example of adherence to that standard for the ranks below them, as well as above them.

Lt. Klingenschmitt’s blatant disregard of DoD orders in favor of his own personal religious cause was definitely conduct unbecoming of an officer of the United States Navy and the military as a whole. His punishment is not religious harassment or discrimination. It is punishment for disobeying the lawful orders he is obligated to obey.

There are ways to address the ban on the mention of Jesus Christ in prayers. Blatantly ignoring DoD regulations is not one of them. While I sympathize with him in his disagreement with DoD’s ban on allowing Christian chaplains to mention their religion’s founder, Jesus Christ, in their prayers, I have to stand on the side of the Navy on this one.

Regulations are regulations. As an officer he knew full well what the expectations of him were. Instead, he willingly chose to flaunt his disregard for them. He now must pay the price for his actions.

I can certainly understand Lt. Klingenschmitt’s objections. I have a really good friend who was a chaplain in the Navy. He eventually left the Navy, because he could not in good faith continue with the military’s politically correct, watered down version of his religion. He loved his job as a chaplain, and knowing him, I’m sure that he was good at it, but, his religious integrity clashed with what was expected of him so he did the honorable thing and resigned his commission.

Why Lt. Klingenschmitt chose a court martial instead of non-judicial punishment is puzzling. I suspect he thinks that by making a spectacle of the whole affair, he can get the media involved and attempt to drag the Department of the Navy through a media scandal until they relent and drop all charges against him, as well as change their policy.

As I stated earlier, there are ways to make changes to policies that you don’t agree with. Dragging the military service he is a member of through some media scandal is not the way. In fact, if that is what he wants, then he doesn’t deserve to be a part of the Navy any more.

For the sake of overall military justice and good morale, he should be court martialed, and dishonorably discharged, or at the very least discharged under conditions other than honorable for his actions. He has set a bad example to not only those under his rank, but for military members of all ranks. Just because you don’t happen to agree with a military order doesn’t release you from your duty to obey it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

9:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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

The charges have nothing to do with his prayer. Military regulations prohibit military personnel from attending or participating in public protests and demonstrations while in uniform. If he had attended in civilian clothes, it would have been fine. Even if he had not said a prayer and only attended in uniform, he still would have been in violation of military regulations AND the direct order of a superior commissioned officer who had ordered him not to wear his uniform the day before the event. The chaplain is not above the law that applies to every member of the Armed Forces across all branches. He willfully and knowingly disobeyed. This is an open and shut case. The chaplain was wrong and should be held accountable for his actions.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Clay said...


I've looked at the website that you have recommended and read Lt. Klingenschmitt's letter in defense of his actions, but I'm afraid that he is in violation of military regulations regarding wear of the uniform at protests and other public venues where the impression might be given that the DoD supports his cause.

Regardless of whether or not there was a conflict between what other higher officers told him, he is an officer and should have known better. Ignorance of military regulations is not an option, particularly when it comes to an officer!

Jake's right. He is guilty. If I was him, I would have elected non-judicial punishment so that he could at least serve out his enlistment before separation (any punishment, whether a letter of rerimand or anything else spells the death of an officer's career).

Unless by some freak circumstance he wins at the court martial, (which is highly unlikely since he was in blatant violation of military regulations), he will be summarily dismissed from the military and instead of an honorable discharge on his record he might be looking at worse, a dishonorable discharge or a discharge of other than honorable charges.

Two stupid moves on his part:

1. Disobeying military regulations

2. Opting for a court martial in lieu of non-judicial punishment.

I agree with him on his concern over not being allowed to pray "in Jesus' name" but he went about in the entirely wrong way.

5:46 PM  
Blogger Lawman said...


If there is one thing I learned while we were stationed together, it's "learn to pick your battles carefully".

While I agree with LT Klingenschmitt's position, the way he went about it is definately all wrong.

As an officer in the Armed Forces, he should have known better. The UCMJ is very specific on those kinds of things. Whether he had "written permission" from his CO is irrelevant. It's still prohibited by DOD policy and military law. And those trump a note from your commander any day.

As a Christian,I feel for the Chaplain and can understand his plight. As a Servicemember, I believe he should get the punishment due him.

8:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clay, Lawman,

Read page 4 paragraph 4 of this letter from his C.O.

Even his commander admits, the Navy Uniform Regulation "permits a member of the naval service to wear his or her uniform, without obtaining permission in advance, incident to attending or participating in a bona fide religious service or observance."

To prove the chaplain violated orders and uniform regs, the Navy must prove his prayers were "not a religious observance."

It appears the Navy's violating their own uniform regs, not the chaplain.

6:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The following is quoted from Klingenschmitt's web site:

"Yesterday at Naval Station Norfolk Chaplain Klingenschmitt's superior officers directly ordered him not to wear his uniform today, because we openly admit that today's event is NOT a divine worship service, it's a press conference. And the chaplain's prayers today are'ceremonial' prayers or religious elements added to an otherwise secular event. This is NOT a worship setting."

By his own admission -

"... he wore his uniform in direct violation of yesterday's explicit orders from his superiors."

Navy Uniform Regulations:

"1401.3.b.($).(b). Members of the Navy and Marine Corps, including retired members and members of reserve components, are PROHIBITED from wearing uniforms of the naval service while ATTENDING or PARTICIPATING in a demonstration, assembly, or activity knowking that the purpose of the demonstration, assembly, or activity supports personal or partisan views on political, social, economic, or religious issues, except as authorized by competent authority, or incident to attending or participating in a bona fide religious service or observance."

Klingenschmitt admits the event was a press conference protesting Navy policy. He admits he wore his uniform in violation of a direct order not to wear his uniform to the event. Even if he had said NO prayers, the mere wearing of his uniform violated Navy Uniform Regulations since the event was not a religious service. Merely saying prayers does NOT make it a "religious observance." He violated direct orders and military regulations. The chaplain needs to be held accountable for his actions. His conduct as an officer is way out of line

2:52 AM  

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