Navy's instructions to chaplains bar sectarian prayer at official functions

Christocrats protest explicit policy

by, March 30, 2006

The Secretary of the Navy quietly issued new regulations governing chaplains last month. The regulations, called "instructions," call explicitly for nonsectarian prayers at official events, putting them at odds with controversial Air Force guidelines permitting sectarian prayer.

The Navy's instructions draw a sharp line between divine services and command functions, the latter being public events at which attendance is required.

In planning command functions, commanders shall determine whether a religious element is appropriate. In considering the appropriateness for including a religious element, commanders, with appropriate advice from a chaplain, should assess the setting and context of the function; the diversity of faith that may be represented among the participants; and whether the function is mandatory for all hands. Other than Divine/Religious Services, religious elements for a command function, absent extraordinary circumstances, should be non-sectarian in nature. Neither the participation of chaplain, nor the inclusion of a religious element, in and of themselves, renders a command function a Divine Service or public worship. Once a commander determines a religious element is appropriate, the chaplain may choose to participate based on his or her faith constraints. If the chaplain chooses not to participate, he or she may do so with no adverse consequences. Anyone accepting a commander's invitation to provide religious elements at a command function is accountable for following the commander's guidance.

Although they were released soon after the Air Force issued its controversial "revised guidelines" under pressure from the religious right in and outside of Congress, the Navy's instructions are not a reaction or response, according to Lt. William Marks, at the Navy Office of Information.

Marks said the Navy routinely reviews and updates its instructions. The ones for the chaplains had been under review for more than a year. (A link to the instructions is at the end of this report.)

The instructions issued February 21st are different than the previous version in that they are more specific about command and religious functions, said Marks. Under the old instructions, "they got jumbled together," he said. He gave the example of a chaplain invited to give the invocation at a promotion ceremony lapsing into a role more proper for divine services.

Now, said Marks, just because "the chaplain plays a part [in command functions], that doesn't make it a religious event."

Former Air Force officer and Reagan administration lawyer Mikey Weinstein, who now heads the Military Religious Freedom Foundation called the Navy guildines "deceiving." In a news release he said there are provisions "buried just below the surface, under the cover of well-crafted language," that blatantly breach the Constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state." Weinstein's statement continued:

The Navy has demonstrated a clear disregard for the Establishment Clause of our Constitution. Instead of prohibiting naval commanders and chaplains from engaging in activities that could imply the establishment of religion, the guidelines merely encourage them to 'strive to avoid' this behavior. Additionally, the guidelines, which make Concessions for chaplains, fail to protect naval officers, enlisted personnel and midshipmen from coercive proselytizing and evangelizing by their superiors.

Right-wing organizations have challenged the Navy's instructions with statements, and, today, a news conference, about which we as yet have no details.

TOPIC: Church-State Separation > Christian Right Inroads Into The Military