Commanding officer dictates ‘religious beliefs’ to military chaplain

By Bob Unruh

A military officer has decided, for a chaplain under his command, what his “religious beliefs” must be, a decision that is being challenged by First Liberty Institute as “wildly inappropriate and offensive.”

The problem developed when a news “report” described how Joe Biden was planning to drop President Trump’s “military transgender ban.”

Chaplain Andrew Calvert then, while the ban still was the military’s policy and practice, wrote on his own social media account, which explained it was not representative of the Department of Defense, questions about the proposed change.

He also endorsed the then-existing DOD policy.

Several individuals who were not identified complained about Calvert’s statement of his religious beliefs, and the military then issued a reprimand to him, in a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand..

First Liberty explained its appeal of the punishment for the chaplain.

“Chaplain Calvert’s post, made from his personal Facebook account that clearly disclaimed any official endorsement, argued that scientific evidence supported the DOD policy at that time. As a Christian minister, Chaplain Calvert felt compelled to comment by his sincerely held religious beliefs. Nevertheless, the Army concluded that Chaplain Calvert’s comments constituted unlawful discrimination. Taking adverse action against any chaplain because of their expressed religious belief violates federal and military law. Meanwhile, Chaplain Calvert’s unit is deprived of its only chaplain because the Army suspended him,” the institute explained.

“Chaplain Calvert is a decorated soldier with an exemplary record. He faces having his career ruined simply because he expressed his religious views on his personal Facebook page,” said Mike Berry, general counsel at First Liberty Institute. “Throughout Chaplain Calvert’s military career, he has personified selfless service and sacrifice, and a desire to provide for the spiritual needs of those under his care. Punishing a chaplain because of their expressed religious belief is illegal and wrong.”

Further, the institute noted in its statement to Lt. Gen. Robert P. White, who issued the reprimand, that his own actions “against a chaplain in retaliation for his expression of his sincerely held religious beliefs is unconstitutional, and violates DOD and U.S. Army regulations.”

“It is wildly in appropriate and offensive for Col. Trotter, headquarters commander for 3rd SFAB, to state his personal opinion that this has ‘nothing to do with violating or infringing on [Chaplain Calvert’s] religious beliefs’ as the basis… Neither Col. Trotter nor the U.S. Army are capable of determining what does or does not violate or infringe upon any soldier’s religious beliefs.”

Calvert has 16 years of service and has deployed to combat zones multiple times. He’s earned the Bronze Star and three Meritorious Service medals.

Further, the chaplain’s own opinion at that time was “wholly consistent with DOD policy.”

And the letter pointed out that military allowed “active duty service members, in uniform,” to march in a protest parade in 2019 in “opposition to the Trump administration’s ban on transgender troops.”

“Clearly, if uniformed, active duty service members are permitted to express political opposition to their commander-in-chief’s policy, an active duty chaplain may express support for that same policy.”

The letter requests that the reprimand be withdrawn.

“Should you refuse to do so, we are prepared to take all necessary legal action to vindicate Chaplain Calvert’s rights.”

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