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Lt. Gordon James Klingenschmitt
The U.S. Navy chaplain who was removed from the service for disobeying a “lawful” order banning prayer “in Jesus’ name” has filed a lawsuit against the government, seeking reinstatement and damages.
The case was filed by attorney John B. Wells on behalf of former Navy Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt in the U.S. Court of Federal claims.
He told WND the new lawsuit “alleges three violations of my religious rights by the federal government:
“1. As a Navy chaplain in 2004, I was unlawfully punished by my ship’s commanding officer with a downgraded evaluation because I quoted ‘exclusive’ Bible verses including John 3:36 in the chapel during an optionally attended Saturday Christian memorial service.
“2. As a whistleblower in 2005, I was unlawfully punished by my subsequent shore commanding officer with a downgraded evaluation because I wrote to the president and to my congressman alleging that senior naval officers, including the chief of naval chaplains, had violated the Constitution by forbidding public prayers ‘in Jesus’ name.’
“3. After the Navy issued a bad policy (that was later rescinded by Congress due to my case), SECNAVINST 1730.7C, that required ‘non-sectarian’ prayers (no-Jesus) and narrowly re-defined ‘public worship’ and ‘religious observance,’ I was unlawfully punished at misdemeanor court-martial in 2006, for wearing my uniform while ‘worshiping in public’ and praying ‘in Jesus’ name’ outside the White House. I had been given prior written permission to wear my uniform during any ‘religious observance’ but the judge ruled instead to enforce SECNAVINST 1730.7C, saying I was ‘not engaged in ‘public worship,’ although he may be worshiping in public.’ The bad prayer policy was the basis of the ‘lawfulness’ of the order I was found guilty of violating.”
Klingenschmitt – an Air Force major who volunteered to take a lower rank to become a chaplain in the Navy – ran into headwinds almost as soon as he made the move.
His complaint explains that as early as 1998 he saw a memo from the former chief of Navy chaplains condemning those who prayed publicly “in Jesus’ name” as incompetent. Then in 2004, the commanding officer of the USS Anzio punished him for quoting “exclusive” Bible verses that state Jesus is the only way to God.
The next year he was given a “downgraded” fitness report based on his religious beliefs, and the same year the commanding officer told the Navy not to renew his contract.
Eventually he faced a court-martial over the issue of praying in Jesus name in his uniform in public.
On his website, Klingenschmitt explains he later was vindicated by Congress, which “rebuked” the Navy by rescinding the policy under which he was prosecuted.
The move restored “liberty to all chaplains to pray freely ‘in Jesus’ name,’ even in uniform, seven days a week,” he said. But the congressional action did not make the restoration retroactive, meaning his court-martial and discharge from the Navy were not automatically reversed.
He was booted after 16 years, short of the 20 needed for his retirement, and eventually was evicted from his housing, he said.
“I am requesting full restoration of my 16-year military career and reinstatement in the Navy as a chaplain, with four years of back pay and full pension benefits, which I lost,” he told WND.
“As a chaplain I took a stand for the right to pray in Jesus’ name, and was I vindicated by Congress, who restored that right for other chaplains, but it was not grandfathered back to my case. Now I’m filing this lawsuit to establish case-law precedent that will, hopefully, stop the domestic enemies of the Constitution from censoring chaplains’ prayers, or punishing their sermons or whistleblower speech, ever again in the future.”
The action seeks pay and allowances; restoration to active duty; removal of references to the offending fitness reports; court-martial and other actions; to have the court-martial vacated; and the letter of reprimand removed.
“The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees the free exercise of religion,” the filing states. “Chaplain Klingenschmitt was discriminated against because of the practice of his religion, specifically praying in Jesus’ name and quoting the Bible.”
“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act … prohibits the government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless it is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”
His is not the only concern that has been raised over the issue. According to a Christian Post report, a case filed on behalf of one chaplain in 1999 now has grown to represent dozens. It alleges that the more evangelical Christian a chaplain is, the less chance he or she has of getting promoted in the Navy.
The attorney working on that case, Art Schulcz, told the Post an analysis showed that the chaplain corps consistently demonstrates a preference for Catholic and liturgical Protestants.
He said a study found 40 of 48 candidates who came from the same denomination as the chief of chaplains were selected for promotion to commander, or approximately 83 percent of those being considered. However, when candidates did not match the chief’s denomination, only 210 of 287 were selected, a rate of 73 percent.
Among the work Klingenschmitt accomplished in the interim was a successful fight in Virginia to allow state trooper chaplains to pray “in Jesus’ name.” He told WND his organization overturned “in Jesus’ name” bans in 10 states.