WASHINGTON – A diverse coalition of religious and civil liberties groups, including the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, has spoken out against a provision in a military spending bill that would alter the way military chaplains perform their duties. The provision was passed as part of a House bill, but was not included in the Senate version, called the National Defense Authorization Act.
The language provides chaplains the "prerogative to pray according to the dictates of the chaplain's own conscience except as must be limited by military necessity, with any such limitation being imposed in the least restrictive manner feasible."
A letter signed by the Baptist Joint Committee, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship partner organization, and 14 other groups called the language "unnecessary and unwise" and pointed out that the legislation is opposed by the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces, which represents a vast majority of military chaplains.
"The fact is, there was no outcry from chaplains or their endorsing organizations concerning an adverse environment for ministry," said K. Hollyn Hollman, general counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee. "Chaplains recognize that ministry in the military takes place in a pluralistic setting and that the focus should be on the armed service members and the soldiers' freedom to freely express their faith."
According to the letter, under current law and regulations, military chaplains are permitted to pray according to their specific religious tradition in a voluntary service. Chaplains should pray in a more inclusive manner, however, when "prayer is called for in a large-group setting or 'command ceremony' where attendance may not be voluntary. If a chaplain does not feel comfortable offering a non-sectarian, inclusive prayer in such a setting, he or she should have the right to refuse to participate without negative consequences."
"This issue is best left up to chaplains, the Department of Defense and religious endorsing agents, not lawmakers on Capitol Hill," Hollman said.
CBF is a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.