Sunday, March 15, 2015

Navy Chaplain's Career in Jeopardy over his Religous Beliefs

Earlier this week I was watching the news when I was introduced to the story of Lt. Commander Wes Modder, a Navy Chaplain, who was recently removed from the promotion list, reassigned, and now has his career in jeopardy for what he claims are his religious beliefs. Most of the literature online, including the op-ed piece I used as my main source, strongly supports Modder’s ability to preach what he believes to be the word of God. First I will summarize the stated role of a Navy Chaplain and the information pertaining to this particular situation regarding Lt. Commander Wes Modder and then will explain my opinion on the matter.

Chaplains in the armed services must be specifically endorsed by a particular denomination in order to serve. Their stated role(s) according to the military is to provide “moral and spiritual support” as well as fulfilling the “everyday spiritual needs” of the men and women in uniform. However, it is worth noting that if a Chaplain fails to stay true to the teachings of their faith, their denomination can withdraw their support.

Modder, has been in the military for nineteen years, and is endorsed by the “Assemblies of God”. In addition, he served as the force Chaplain of the Navy Seals and has an extremely decorated record. In his last review Modder’s superiors wrote that he was “the best of the best” and also a “consummate professional leader”.

Nonetheless, on December 6th of 2014, Modder was confronted by an assistant of his and a pair of Equal Opportunity representatives who presented him with a five page long document filled with grievances against him. The document detailed Modder’s views on “same-sex relationships/marriages, homosexuality, different standards of respect for men and women, pre-marital sex and masturbation.” After several complaints, Modder’s commanding officer wrote a “detachment for cause” letter which declared that Modder was “unable to function in the diverse and pluralistic environment” of the Navy. The commanding officer also suggested that Modder be taken off the promotion list, separated from his unit, and also be brought before a Board of Inquiry.Modder has stated that he feels discriminated because of his beliefs and declares that "Every fiber in my being wants to run away from this – but if I do I'm not being obedient to the Lord," he continues to say that “I need to stand up for righteousness and this is something I cannot walk away from." Without a doubt, Modder is in a difficult situation, as his attorney Mike Berry states Modder is in “in a catch-22 between his faith and his career”. An argument similar to what we have read about in class in Braunfield V. Brown.

This controversy is further compounded by the fact that Modder is nearing his 20-year anniversary of military service and if his case is not resolved by Sept. 1, his pension and retirement benefits could be in jeopardy.

What would appear to be the fundamental question at hand is should Modder, in his paid position as a Navy Chaplain, be allowed to preach his personnel beliefs that are sometimes controversial such that  homosexual behavior is contrary to Biblical teaching? Surprisingly on this matter the official statement from the Pentagon seems to answer the question outright. In the official statement it is declared that “The Navy values, and protects in policy, the rights of its service members, including chaplains, to practice according to the tenets of their faith and respects the rights of each individual to determine their own religious convictions.” If this truly is the policy- it seems that Modder did absolutely nothing wrong and is justified in exercising his religion.

Yet while I understand that Modder has a right to freely exercise his religion, I believe that in his role as a Navy Chaplain he should not be voicing these beliefs. He is supposed to serve as a spiritual supporter of these brave men and women and it is unfair to some who do not hold his beliefs to be subject to an open desecration of how they choose to live their lives. Apparently, Modder berated an unmarried women for getting pregnant and also declared that homosexuality is wrong. 

Modder is resolute in his beliefs and firmly claims that "The values that the military once held – just like the Boy Scouts of America – are changing. The culture wants this. Culture is colliding with truth. That's at the heart of this." While I respect Modder’s beliefs and commend him for his service to this nation, who is he to determine what the truth is? I understand Modder cannot disregard what he believes but I don’t believe serving as a Chaplain of a religiously diverse military is the best career for someone with these beliefs. What are your thoughts on this situation? I found it particularly complex because as a Chaplain who must be endorsed, Modder is in a way doing his job by practicing his beliefs. Do you think that perhaps the Navy’s policy should change? 


Emily C. said...

I do not know how financially feasible this proposal would be, but I would argue that the most constitutional means of rectifying this situation would be to appoint multiple chaplains of varying religious backgrounds. It is definitely not the governments' position to be telling Modder which issues he must support and which issues he must refrain from discussing. In order to preserve Modder's religious freedom, it is essential that he be given the liberty to preach his personal beliefs, yet in order to satisfy the religious liberties of the Naval sailors access to religious leaders of their faith should be given.

Morgan M said...

I think that Modder has a right to his own opinions and beliefs but during his time and service he shouldn't be expressing these beliefs, especially towards his own military squad. I do think that the military practice should change as this does not seem to treat everyone equally and would promote a certain amount of discrimination within the military. That being said, I think that the rules would have to change before they can legally remove him from the promotion list as, as the author points out, he was just acting within his faith. This case reminds me of the teacher who was fired for professing her beliefs against gays on facebook. Should public employees still have their first amendement rights to free speech? Most of the class seemed to agree with the quote by Obama in the above post, and with such a belief Modder should be able to profess what he would like under the first amendment regardless if it hurts others.