An investigation is being sought by a Christian church organization in the United States after the U.S. Army deliberately shut down a service one of its sponsored chaplains was running for U.S. military service personnel at Forward Operating Base Loyalty in Iraq.
The complaint by Associated Gospel Churches, a fellowship of Independent Fundamental Christian churches, has been forwarded to the Army by U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., seeking an Army Inspector General investigation.
Rev. G. William Baugham, the chairman of the AGC’s commission on chaplains, told WND that the circumstances are particularly egregious since it appears it was a representative from another Christian denomination that closed down the service that had been operated at FOB Loyalty by Chaplain Stuart Kazarovich, who has been endorsed by the AGC.
The services held by Kazarovich were shut down for five weeks, from July 8-Aug. 12, 2007, the organization’s report on the situation confirmed.
“Because this information is now in the public domain, the AGC acknowledges that the Fundamental Baptist service led by Chaplain Stuart Kazarovich, an AGC endorsed chaplain, appears to have been suppressed because it was offensive to the brigade chaplain,” Baugham told WND in a prepared statement.
“AGC believes the Army’s initial response was slow and ineffective, despite the unprecedented depredation of basic constitutional rights of the fundamental Baptist congregation,” he continued. “In short, this calls attention to the suppression of a Fundamental Baptist service and the command’s insensitivity to religious hostility.”
A comment could not be obtained from the Army immediately on this case, but WND has reported earlier on issues within the corps of chaplains for the U.S. military because of some members were approved for those posts by Abdurahman Alamoudi, who at the time headed the
American Muslim Council, and now is serving a 23-year prison sentence on federal terrorism charges.
WND also has reported on the battle waged by Navy Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt, who actually was separated from the military for his decision to pray “in Jesus’ name.”
Rev. Baugham indicated the facts in the new case are disturbing.
He said Kazarovich was assigned as a battalion chaplain in 2006 to a unit in Fort Carson, Colo., during its preparation for deployment to Iraq.
“Kazarovich’s sending church is an Independent Baptist Church,” he confirmed. “[He] immediately began experiencing hostility from his brigade chaplain directed at [Chaplain] Kazarovich’s Fundamental Baptist beliefs.”
“This included criticisms of his sermons and his answers to soldiers’ questions concerning how they could have peace with God and the assurance of salvation, which address basic Christian beliefs,” he said. “At one point, his brigade chaplain is alleged to have said that being ‘born again’ has no place in the Army.”
Once in the war zone, Kazarovich started a Christian service that was attended by more than 30 soldiers at FOB Loyalty.
“One of those who attended was a self-identified agnostic who said that it was the one service that he found challenging and thought provoking,” Baugham said.
Then for a scheduled rest and recreation leave, Kazarovich arranged to have the service continue. However, “his brigade chaplain canceled the services [and] upon CH Kazarovich’s return from R&R July 24, 2007, the brigade chaplain told CH Kazarovich there would be no more Fundamental service,” Baugham said.
Soldiers then rebelled, Baugham confirmed, contacting AGC for help to re-establish the service.
Baugham said he wrote the battalion commander suggesting the censorship was a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Constitution’s Free Exercise, Establishment and Due Process clauses, and also contacted the division chaplain and chief of chaplains.
Not only did 34 of the soldiers from Kazarovich’s congregation sign a petition seeking a return of the service, some of the family members of those soldiers as well as soldiers’ pastors joined in, he said.
“It is overwhelming evidence that in the minds of these soldiers, their service was suppressed and the command had no intention of reinstituting it,” he said.
“Out of respect for the Army’s and Chaplain Corps’ commitment to free exercise, the AGC attempted to resolve the problem through the appropriate Army channels. AGC issues this press release because the incident has become more widely known and believes the public has a right to the basic information without impeding the ongoing investigation,” Baugham said.
He said the initial military investigation alleged the service was “suspended” for the five weeks it was not allowed, even though he had exchanged letters with the battalion commander prior to the suppression attempting to resolve “what appeared to be the brigade chaplain’s harassment and intolerance of Fundamental Christian beliefs.”
Jones’ office could not comment on the issue today, although his office has been integral in fighting for the religious rights of military service members. A constituent earlier had notified him that a chaplain had asked him whether it would be allowed to mention “Jesus.”
“He alluded to the fact that he and other chaplains had been asked not to mention Jesus Christ. This startles and frightens me that our faith is being infringed upon, even within our own military,” the constituent said.
Another comment came in from an Army chaplain.
“The persecution centers on Christian chaplains praying in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he wrote. “My ‘Christian’ group leader was indignant and ridiculed me for praying in Jesus’ name and for suggesting that I would have an altar call during chapel services that I lead,” the chaplain, whose identity was withheld, wrote.
“Additionally, he said, it is offensive to pray in the name of Jesus and is against Army policy to do so.”
Jones also earlier rallied help for an Army chaplain who was serving in Iraq but was removed from his chapel for speaking to the media about the importance of the freedom to pray according to his faith tradition. The chaplain later was reinstated.
But it is the case of Klingenschmitt that so far has raised the most serious questions about the military’s treatment of Christianity.
He was convicted by the Navy of failing to follow a lawful order because his superior didn’t want him praying “in Jesus name.” But when Congress got word of his $3,000 fine for his prayer, members ordered the Navy to remove the limitation and allow chaplains to pray as their “conscience dictates.”
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