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Battling Chaplain Still at War With the U.S. Navy

Monday, 03 April 2006 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- "I am a Navy chaplain, and I pray in Jesus' name!" exclaimed Lt. Gordon J. Klingenschmitt to an audience at the "War on Christians and the Values Voter in 2006" conference at the Omni-Sheraton Hotel last week.

The 1991 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, who voluntarily took a demotion from Air Force major to Navy lieutenant in order to serve as a chaplain has journeyed a long way since standing watches as a Minuteman-III missile launch officer at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

As command chaplain aboard the USS Anzio CG-68, he traveled into the war zone of Operation Iraqi Freedom - but his most profound battle cruise has been a deeply personal one of conscience and faith.

The most recent salvos fired by the chaplain, who famously fasted in protest for 18 days in front of the White House last January, are across the bow of none other than the secretary of the Navy, Donald C. Winter.

Says Klingenschmitt, the Navy chief has recently put into a directive what has been enforced de facto:

"At other than divine/religious service, religious elements [prayers] for a command function should be non-sectarian in nature ..."

But the battling chaplain wants none of this watered-down prayer business, citing that for 231 years sailors in the U.S. Navy have enjoyed the spiritual comfort of uniformed chaplains praying to an identified God - and that the time honored old regulation is simple and clear in its meaning: "An officer in the chaplain corps may conduct public worship according to the manner and forms of the church of which he is a member ..."

For sure, in the past the chaplain has butted heads with his superiors over invoking the name of Jesus, and he has, perhaps predictably, come up on the losing end.

He fought back after receiving career-ending fitness reports with his fast at the White House. According to Klingenschmitt, the Navy renewed his contract and allowed him to remain on active duty another three years – owing to the visibility he gained.

However, he lamented to the sympathetic Christian audience, "The Navy still refuses to cleanse my personnel record. I can never be promoted because I pray in Jesus' name."

One gleans from the impassioned chaplain that he has long ago given up on rehabilitating his own career – his fight is more for those young men of faith who will seek to serve as military chaplains in the future. If officers are not promoted within a certain time frame, they will be involuntarily separated.

In the meantime, as he marks time in his frozen rank, he wants to continue to be the biggest thorn in the brass's side.

"I want to meet all of you; I want your business cards," he shouts to the capacity crowd before launching into a PowerPoint show that highlights the issue he has vowed to pursue until the commander in chief himself steps front and center and by clear and concise language in an executive order returns the unfettered use of Jesus' name to Navy prayers.

The steadfast chaplain notes that no less that 65 chaplains have sued the Navy since 1999 – over the issue of freedom to practice their ministries without restriction.

Additionally, he points out that 130 chaplains from various services have recently complained to Congress.

"We need hearings, congressional hearings," he shouts to the crowd, several of whom answer with a fervent "Amen!"

"Seventy-five congressmen have already written the President about this problem. Two hundred thousand Americans have petitioned the President. Thirty-four pro-family groups have written ..." he states.

Klingenschmitt bridles each time he is accused of "overemphasizing my own faith system."

And it is the shipboard venue that him the most concerned, as he points out that the Secretary of the Navy has banned Christian prayers on vessels outside of the chapel setting, insisting that such prayers must be sectarian in nature.

"They are redefining public worship," he charges the crowd just before invoking the name of Abdul Rahman, the Christian convert who has been the subject of prosecution in Afghanistan.

"Why did we go and liberate Afghanistan? Does this man have religious freedom today? Mr. President, we are asking you for an executive order. We need to get our own house in order before we can promote religious liberty overseas."

On Thursday, the battling chaplain will continue the fight – this time in the company of former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Ray Moore, who won national fame defending a Ten Commandants display in the rotunda of the justice building.

He beseeched every attendee if still in town to attend the 9 am press conference he and Moore plan near the White House.

Like John Paul Jones, the chaplain promises that he has only begun to fight.


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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- "I am a Navy chaplain, and I pray in Jesus' name!" exclaimed Lt. Gordon J. Klingenschmitt to an audience at the "War on Christians and the Values Voter in 2006" conference at the Omni-Sheraton Hotel last week. The 1991 graduate of the U.S. Air Force...
Monday, 03 April 2006 12:00 AM
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