Fort Hood Report Addresses Chaplains, Religious Accommodation

The Fort Hood report (pdf), authored at the request of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, is being widely circulated and read by a variety of pundits.  As previously noted, many have already taken note that it calls for action against the officers who appear to have not followed standards when Hasan’s evaluations did not match his reported performance.  Two other findings are also important to the relationship between religion and the military: a review of the policy on Chaplain endorsers, and a recommendation that the military define a “baseline” for religious conduct.

First, with regard to the officers who supervised US Army Maj Hasan

Several officers failed to comply with…policies when taking actions regarding the alleged perpetrator.  We recommend that you refer matters of accountability for those failures to the Secretary of the Army for appropriate action…

Some medical officers failed…to demonstrate that officership is the essence of being a member of the military profession, regardless of the officer’s specialty.  We also found that some medical officers failed to include the alleged perpetrator’s overall performance as an officer, rather than solely his academic performance, in his formal performance evaluations…Both types of failures, in our view, were significant and warrant immediate attention.

Specifics of the above failures appear to be in a non-released annex, which makes it difficult to analyze.  It is worth noting that military evaluation systems can be strongly oriented on opinion and interpretation, so the investigators must have found a gross violation to so strongly recommend “immediate attention.”  It would be unfortunate, however, if the officers were overly scrutinized because of their subordinate’s ultimate actions, if their actions were not out of norm for their unit or the process.

Second, nothing in the Fort Hood massacre had anything to do with the endorsing agencies of Chaplains, yet the investigators took the unforeseen step of specifically examining the related military policy:

Finding 2.3
DoD standards for denying requests for recognition as an ecclesiastical endorser of chaplains may be inadequate.

In short, policies on Chaplain endorsing agencies may give the military insufficient authority to deny recognition of a Chaplain endorser, potentially resulting in an endorser with “undue improper influence by individuals with propensity toward violence.”  While the investigators did not specify, given the context of the investigation it seems the recommendation was made with an eye to “extremist” agencies who might try to become Chaplain endorsers in order to emplace extremist Chaplains within the military.

The final critique was on the military religious accommodation policies, as defined by DoDI 1300.17.

Finding 2.7
DoD policy regarding religious accommodation lacks the clarity necessary to help commanders distinguish appropriate religious practices from those that might indicate a potential for violence or self-radicalization.

In the discussion, the investigators note that the policy

does not…provide standards or recording procedures necessary to establish a baseline of traditional religious practice within faith groups.

This is a fairly controversial topic, and one that will be difficult to encapsulate within the confines of religious relationships with the government.  In essence, the investigators are calling on the military to define “normal” religious conduct, so that abnormal conduct can be detected.  The methodology isn’t extreme: they simply say record and share requests for accommodation.  Supposedly, then, unusual requests for accommodation will stand out.  The problem is that there is no governmental dictate saying that one person’s request for accommodation is any more or less representative of a faith than another.  It will be interesting to see how this particular recommendation might be implemented.