The Navy discriminates!

By Jane Chastain

A blatant case of discrimination has reared its ugly head in the United States Navy. It’s not the kind you might expect involving race or even sex. It’s a case of religious discrimination. It doesn’t involve Muslims or any other religious minority. The Navy discriminates against the chaplains who serve its largest religious community – evangelicals.

For the unenlightened, evangelicals are non-liturgical Protestants from various denominations: Baptists, Bible Churches, Assembly of God, Church of God, Pentecostals, charismatics and other conservative religious-faith groups. What sets these Protestants apart from the mainline or liturgical denominations such as Congregationalists, Methodists, Lutherans, Reformed, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, etc. is that they do not follow a set form of worship or rituals, nor do their clerics wear religious garments. Evangelical worship tends to be Bible-centered and emphasizes a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Over the years, the mainline or liturgical Protestant denominations have been losing ground to the non-liturgical Protestant denominations. Nowhere is that change more noticeable than in the Armed Services. The Navy evangelical Protestant community is about four times larger than the liturgical Protestant community. In fact, there are twice as many Navy Baptists as all liturgical Protestants combined.

If you examine the ratio of chaplains to congregants in these various faith groups, you will see that something is amiss. The ratio of liturgical Protestant chaplains to all liturgicals is 1 to 139. The ration of evangelical chaplains to all evangelicals combined is 1 to 494.

These mainline Protestant-faith groups now represent only about 7.9 percent of the Navy but approximately 35 percent of the chaplains. Is there a shortage of pastors from non-liturgical Protestant-faith groups wanting to serve as chaplains? Hardly! The disparity can be explained when you look at recruiting goals, promotion and retention records, and the way the Navy treats its non-liturgical chaplains.

The recruiting goals for liturgical chaplains have been historically higher than the goals for evangelical chaplains, sometimes by a factor of two to one. There is a quota system that appears to be in place in the retention and promotion process that favors chaplains from liturgical-faith groups over chaplains from non-liturgical faiths.

Furthermore, despite the relatively small number of liturgical service members attending chapel services, the Navy frequently requires evangelical chaplains to conduct general Protestant worship services in a liturgical format. Evangelical chaplains have been criticized – and their careers derailed – for praying “in Jesus’ name,” or even indirectly referring to Christ in the closure of prayers.

Evangelical chaplains who have established services similar to their tradition often are harassed or removed. To add insult to injury, the Navy has illegally brought senior-ranking liturgical chaplains to active duty from the Naval Reserve, who then compete and are selected for promotion without serving the necessary time in the demanding assignments the Navy requires for non-liturgical chaplains to be competitive for promotion.

From before World War II, the position of the chief of chaplains has been monopolized by liturgical Protestant and Roman Catholic chaplains. Liturgical chaplains selected by the chief of chaplains have dominated Navy promotion boards to commander and captain. Until recently, the Navy revealed the faith group of every chaplain to the board in the selection process, enabling board members to vote their religious prejudice or preference. By controlling promotion-board membership, the monopolizing religious groups virtually have excluded evangelical chaplains from most of the positions of power and influence in the “sea services” (Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard).

In 1997, four Navy chaplains began working to change this discriminatory system. Putting their careers and reputations on the line, they first made their case to their senior chaplains and then went up the chain of command. Two investigations were launched which documented the flaws and prejudices at work within the Chaplain Corps. The research was acknowledged, but ultimately ignored by senior Navy leadership.

By 2000, without additional alternatives, the group, which had grown to 17, had filed five lawsuits. In what amounts to tacit acknowledgement of the validity of the complaints, the Navy settled the three individual lawsuits and mooted another by making reparations. The Navy made some minor cosmetic corrections in what appears to be posturing before these chaplains have their day in court.

Today, these chaplains – who now number 55 – and their lawyer continue their struggle for reform at their own expense and are inviting the other non-liturgical chaplains to join them in what is now a class-action lawsuit. These courageous men of God should be commended and supported in this effort.

The Navy should hang its head in shame. If our military members cannot trust the integrity of their Chaplain Corps – their spiritual leaders – how can they be expected to trust those who are responsible for their physical well-being – their military leaders?

If you would like to support these chaplains, you may send a donation to Chaplain Defense Fund; c/o Law Office of Arthur A. Schulcz, Sr.; 2521 Drexel Street; Vienna, VA; 22181.