Air Force Officer: Save Money by Ending Chaplaincy

An Air Force pilot blogging at recently suggested ending the military chaplaincy would be a “win” for both recent budget issues and the Constitution:

With all the talk of cutting warfighters yet again, and remarks about being creative in solving the budget issues, I find it interesting that there has been no discussion of cutting the chaplain corps in its entirety.

He gives four reasons for his suggestion:

First, their existence is a violation of our Constitution [specifically] Article VI (the same article that requires military officers to swear to support the Constitution)…

Second, the nation has become more secular and very few people in the service use the services of a chaplain…

Third, the religious services of chaplains are easily replicated at no cost to the taxpayer…

Fourth, chaplains are all officers…it then stands to reason that there is a huge amount of money to be saved by cutting their billets.

Article VI says that “no religious test” can be required for public office, and was likely motivated by States who required their public officials to swear a “test oath” that they believed in Jesus, or the Trinity, or some other specific faith tenet before they could assume their (secular) office.

To assert that the Constitution was intended to ban chaplains from serving in the government or the US military is ridiculous.  While the establishment of the military chaplaincy under George Washington preceded the Constitution, it is obvious at least some of the nation’s founders conceived of such governmental positions.  The chaplaincy continued through Washington’s presidency and the next 200 years.  To be fair, though, the issue has been raised before, as when the District Court said in Katcoff v Marsh (1986)

There are certain practices, conceivably violative of the Establishment Clause, the striking down of which might seriously interfere with certain religious liberties also protected by the First Amendment. Provisions for churches and chaplains at military establishments for those in the armed services may afford one such example…It is argued that such provisions may be assumed to contravene the Establishment Clause, yet be sustained on constitutional grounds as necessary to secure to the members of the Armed Forces and prisoners those rights of worship guaranteed under the Free Exercise Clause.

Since government has deprived such persons of the opportunity to practice their faith at places of their choice, the argument runs, government may, in order to avoid infringing the free exercise guarantees, provide substitutes where it requires such persons to be.

However, the court found the military chaplaincy did not violate the Constitution.  It was the first, and essentially the only, court to address the issue.

The amount of “use” chaplains see is debatable, given the military’s constant cries that its chaplains are over-extended.  Nor is an unsupported claim of low utility direct cause for terminating a career field.  At one point, military mortuary affairs specialists were infamously known for their primary duty of handing out towels at the base gym.  The fact that they were not serving in their primary career field did not negate the military need for their position.  In the end, PYB gives no support for his claim that “very few people use the services of a chaplain,” and his statement rightfully carries the all the weight of personal anecdote.

He spends the most time claiming chaplains are an unnecessary duplication of civilian services — a point belied by the constant use of chaplains in places there are no civilian faith leaders available to minister to troops, even when they are deployed within the borders of the United States.

His fourth point is laughable.  The US military currently spends far more money making a military dentist or pediatrician — often paying off medical school bills as well as providing generous payments on top of standard officer pay — than it does a chaplain, who most often pays his own way through school and receives no additional pay.  (Military doctors receive as much as $36,000 a year above their standard pay to entice them to stay in the military.)  Yet ending the chaplaincy would save money?

Of all the support services the US military provides its troops, only one is specifically enumerated in the US Constitution — the right to religious free exercise.  Military chaplains serve a unique and vital role in the protection of liberty in the US military.  Attack their service if you must, but at least correctly represent their sacrifice and service.