Navy Issues Restraining Order against Chaplain Modder
In a rather surprising development, US Navy CAPT J.R. Fahs issued a “No Contact Order” (essentially, a restraining order) prohibiting Navy Chaplain (LtCmdr) Wes Modder from ministering to — or even communicating with — the Sailors he formerly served:
When a sailor in Modder’s previous unit unexpectedly died…Modder was about to reach out to the sailor’s grieving family when he was stopped by a member of the command.
He was slapped with a “no contact” order – the Navy’s version of a restraining order – banning him from providing counsel or ministering to any members of his unit.
The order also reportedly banned Chaplain Modder from even entering the base on the day of the memorial service.
Liberty Institute attorney Mike Berry said the Navy was now “punishing” Chaplain Modder:
“This Navy official is using the ‘no contact’ order as a weapon to punish and humiliate a decorated military chaplain,” Berry said. “To deny Chaplain Modder of the ability to minister to a grieving family and other sailors is deplorable.”
It does seem odd that the Navy felt the need to issue the order at all — especially banning Chaplain Modder from the entire base to prevent him from going near a memorial service. In some regards, it seems a “doubling down” on the accusation that Chaplain Modder is so offensive he should be kicked out of the Navy altogether. Even if one accepts the order, it is exceedingly curious that it wasn’t issued as part of the initial adverse action against the chaplain. It leaves open the perception that the recent move is retribution against Chaplain Modder, as Berry asserts.
For its part, the Liberty Institute has said the Navy violated the law in not granting Chaplain Modder’s request for religious accommodation, something it is required to do except when
a request would have an adverse effect on military readiness, mission accomplishment, unit cohesion and good order and discipline.
On this point, Chaplain Modder may have a very strong case — because of the Navy’s own words. CAPT Fahs said to Chaplain Modder:
You have always had and continue to have the ability to observe and practice the tenets of your religious faith…
If that is true, then observing and practicing the tenets of his faith has not adversely affected military readiness, by CAPT Fahs’ own admission — so the request should have been approved. It will be difficult for the Navy to back out of that one, but they will likely ultimately lose on that point. Remember, Congress has already taken the DoD to task for not appropriately guarding troops’ religious expression — including “fear of reprisal for expressing one’s beliefs, the primary intent” of the legislation they’ve passed to date. Now, that fear appears to have come to fruition.
As an aside, an article at GetReligion, which discusses how religious issues are reported in the media, notes that media coverage is failing to discuss the “crucial question” of the (apparent) conflict between the chaplain’s religious endorser and Navy policies.