Over the years since Katcoff v. Marsh, a number of incidents have drawn
attention to some of the gray areas in the law.32 In 2008, two professors from George Washington University Law School noted that “constitutional issues involving the military chaplaincy have progressed from a low simmer to a rolling boil.”33 In their article “Instruments of Accommodation: The Military Chaplaincy and the Constitution,” Ira Lupu and Robert Tuttle reviewed these challenges and concluded that when viewed “through the legal prism of permissive accommodation,” the military chaplaincy‟s “basic features appear to fit comfortably within our constitutional tradition.”34 They did, however, have some real concern about certain specific practices within the chaplaincy.
Like Drazin, Lupu and Tuttle were worried about chaplain insensitivity to soldiers‟ free exercise rights, especially pertaining to the act of proselytization. They noted that while chaplains (or any officers, for that matter) are forbidden to harass soldiers about their faith choices, or use non-religious events as an opportunity to proselytize, “chaplains may argue that proselytizing is an essential part of their ministry, and—as long as performed in a non-coercive manner—is fully consistent with service members‟ rights of free exercise.”35 The chaplaincy has resolved this particular dilemma by defining proselytizing and evangelizing as two separate and distinct activities, one which is expressly forbidden (proselytizing) and the other which is not (evangelizing.) This topic will be explored further at another point in this paper.
Beyond the issue of improper proselytizing, Lupu and Tuttle expressed concern that something as simple as pastoral care, inappropriately provided by chaplains in combat zones, might tread on the rights of soldiers.
In a remote area, the service member who wishes to confide in a chaplain is not likely to have a great deal of choice; unless he waits for the occasional visit of clergy of different faiths to provide formal worship, the service member will have contact only with the unit‟s assigned chaplain.…The temporal and spatial likelihood of grave physical danger, the absence of a service member‟s choice of particular faith affiliation on the part of the chaplain, and the lack of formal supervision cumulatively present a significant risk of unwanted religious persuasion in this context.36
They suggested that the best way to avoid this “unwanted religious persuasion” is to develop standards that “prohibit pro-active, chaplain-initiated religious persuasion by chaplains in any context in which service members might be regarded as both vulnerable and deprived of adequate choice of religious confidant.”37 This approach seems rather heavy-handed and legalistic. It would so tie the hands of chaplains that they could hardly speak to soldiers without fear of a legal complaint. There may be a more moderate approach that both buffers soldiers from unwanted religious counsel yet keeps the full range of skill and talent offered by the chaplain available to them. Pluralism Challenges in the Chaplaincy
Following Katcoff v. Marsh, the Army chaplaincy paid more attention to the need
for pluralism. However, this emphasis on pluralism does not change the obligation for chaplains to remain faithful to the tenets of their faith groups. There will always remain a delicate balance between the two. In her book American Evangelicals and the U.S. Military, Loveland suggests that the chaplaincy has been fairly successful in maintaining this balance by encouraging both loyalty to denomination and cooperative pluralism.38 Army field manuals stress that the spiritual authority for chaplains is derived from their religious organization, not from the military, and they perform chaplain duties within the principles of their respective churches.39 But just as chaplains are required to uphold the principles of the religious communities they represent, they also work within a government institution with a diversity of faith groups. So the churches must ensure that the clergypersons they endorsed for the chaplaincy can manage activities in the pluralistic environment while remaining true to their denominations. To help establish standards and provide support for this endorsement process, an organization was formed in 1982 bringing together official representatives of all the faith communities who endorse clergypersons for service as chaplains in the armed forces. Known as the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces (NCMAF), they developed a code of ethics that recognizes both the direction given by an ecclesiastical endorser and the need to respect the beliefs and practices of others.40
Unfortunately, not all chaplains have fully embraced the concept of cooperative pluralism. This is not surprising, considering the emphasis some Christian religious bodies place on conversion of those who are not Christian. A fundamentalist chaplain may feel that his or her personal responsibility to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with non-Christians conflicts with the concept of religious tolerance and inter-religious dialogue.41 Loveland described a situation in the 1990s, when evangelical chaplains felt tension between their beliefs and the system of cooperative pluralism. In an article for Military Chaplains‟ Review, one chaplain recalled witnessing “handwringing sessions when our most orthodox brethren [sic] have lamented the possibility of Buddhist, Baha‟i, Hare Krishna, or even—Heaven forbid!—„Moonie‟ Chaplains entering our well-paid inner sanctum.”42 Another chaplain related experiences of interaction with fundamentalist chaplains who, despite the expectation of cooperative pluralism, treated him as if he were subversive and immoral because his beliefs did not match theirs.43 Chaplain Thomas Schreck, a Unitarian Universalist chaplain, recounts conversations in which he was asked “How can you wear a cross?” and, “How can you be a chaplain?” and, “Don‟t you know you‟ll die in your sins?” “Based upon his experiences, Shreck questioned whether most military personnel truly accepted religious pluralism in the armed forces. „If many members of our community cannot deal with chaplains who express their religious humanism, how shall they ever deal with chaplains who worship Buddha, Baha‟u‟llah, or the Guru Maharaji?‟ he asked.”44
Chaplain Shreck‟s prediction that many chaplains would have difficulty accepting someone whose faith practices are very different from the Christian tradition was put to the test in 1994, when the Army accessioned the first Muslim chaplain into the armed forces.45 According to one observer, when Chaplain Abdul-Rasheed Muhammad came to Ft. Bragg for his first assignment, he was not well received by some of the other chaplains. A female Jewish Chaplain from that post stated that she was astonished to hear many of her Christian peers saying this new Muslim chaplain was evil, and that they would have absolutely nothing to do with him. She felt it was rather ironic that she, a Rabbi, might be the best advocate for an Imam in this first assignment!46
As a junior chaplain on active duty, I had an eye-opening experience when I deployed with 62nd Medical Group to Somalia in 1993. Early in the deployment an officer who was a member of the Latter Day Saints47 (LDS) made an appointment to see me and asked, very hesitantly, if arrangements could be made for an LDS service. I was amazed at how wary this company grade officer was in making this request, and asked her why she was so reluctant to speak with me. She explained that in the past when she or her LDS peers had approached a chaplain for help they had been strongly rebuffed. They felt as if they were persona non grata, and could expect no help from chaplains who did not share the same faith practices. I was appalled that their experience had been one of such intolerance. Also, during the same deployment, I was frustrated by senior chaplains who were unwilling to assist her in finding a space for two Muslim soldiers to pray. I finally resorted to meeting with the Pakistani Liaison Officer who offered the soldiers the opportunity to pray with his troops.
The LDS or Muslim issues might seem rather tame today, considering some of the diversity challenges that have arisen since that time. The first Wiccan48 Open Circle49 rituals on a military installation were held at Ft. Hood, Texas, in 1997. These meetings created a firestorm of response in the press, and the organization endured over “two years of political attacks from clergy, conservative lobbying groups, and members of Congress.”50 In the midst of this firestorm, the chaplaincy acquitted itself quite well as an institution, standing firm on the First Amendment rights of the Fort Hood Wiccans to have a designated location on post for their rituals.51 There remain individual chaplains, however, who do not willingly protect the rights of Wiccan soldiers to practice their faith. In 2006 a chaplain serving in Balad, Iraq, considered changing his endorsement from Christian to Wiccan. His efforts stalled because his proposed endorser (the Sacred Well Congregation,) did not meet all of the DOD requirements to endorse chaplains.52 Once his intentions became public, many of his chaplain peers refused to interact with him and considered him a “traitor.”53
One of the greatest challenges faced by a fundamentalist chaplain may be working with female chaplains. A fundamentalist Christian who believes the Bible is the inerrant authority on faith and life will typically find it difficult to accept a woman in a church leadership position. Quoting passages from Paul‟s letters to the Corinthians54 and Timothy55, even an organization as mainstream as the Southern Baptist Convention teaches that “women are not in public worship to assume a role of authority over men lest confusion reign in the local church.” As a result, they do not support the ordination of women to leadership roles in the church.56 Conversely, many churches support the ordination of women and endorse female clergy for the military chaplaincy. There are currently 64 women serving on active duty as Army chaplains.57 This constitutes a dilemma for those chaplains who believe that women should not serve in positions of religious leadership. How can they serve with women who have been given this authority? As military chaplains, they must accept that in the pluralistic military community they will encounter and must work with these women. Some chaplains have managed to resolve the conflict and work quite collegially with their chaplain sisters. Others have not. When I was in the Chaplain Basic course in 1984 I was told by some of my fundamentalist male colleagues that I should not be there. Twenty-five years later, women in the current version of the Chaplain Basic course are still enduring harassment from fundamentalist peers who tell these women they do not belong there and should leave.58