Chaplains Group Joins MRFF in Complaint Against Navy
Retired US Army Chaplain (Col) Ron Crews of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty recently teamed up with Michael “Mikey” Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to send the Navy Recruit Training Command a joint letter (PDF) complaining about the Navy’s decision to ban civilian volunteers from leading religious services:
We have testified before the same Congressional panels. We have spoken out on the same incidents in the services. And, we are always on opposing sides, but in this instance it is easy for us both to say that the Navy went too far and is clearly in violation of the Constitutional religious liberty rights of American sailors at the Recruit Training Command.
While the MRFF said pigs must be flying for the MRFF and the Chaplain Alliance to be working together, it’s really not that dramatic. For one thing, Weinstein and Crews have long had a personal relationship — Weinstein has even had Crews over for dinner. For another, it was noted in the prior discussion that several organizations are expressing similar concerns about the religious liberty of recruits at Great Lakes — they just weren’t using Weinstein’s invective to do so. Even this site questioned the Navy’s policy implementation.
On that note, the joint letter eschews Weinstein’s normal accusations and demands for court-martial, instead saying
We urge you to immediately reverse course and to reinstate the civilian-led Earth-based religious services, at least until such time as a uniformed leader can provide this same worship for your sailors.
That is a calm, reasoned statement that many people could get behind. Had Weinstein said that initially — rather than accusing the Navy of “spiritual rape” or having a lawyer claim the Navy was persecuting Druids — he may have found more allies in the beginning. (To that point, even some of Weinstein’s supporters — and his staff — have criticized his “over the top” antics, with some encouraging him to either tone it down or find someone else to speak for the organization.)
And, lest some believe Weinstein has seen the light, it is worth noting he is coming to the defense of a Druid who wants to lead services during Navy boot camp. In 2005, though, Weinstein attacked a US Air Force chaplain who was leading services during boot camp — because he objected to the Christian beliefs presented during the service. Weinstein’s attack is documented in the lawsuit he filed against the US Air Force Academy — a lawsuit that, like all his others, was dismissed before reaching trial.
The Navy correspondence to which this joint letter refers has not been released, but it implies that some recruits are now exercising their religious tenets on their own, rather than with a faith leader — even when a (civilian) faith leader is available. This is new information. Notably, the Navy previously said
If recruits request a spiritual leader, the Navy will follow the guidance for identifying a suitable candidate…
It’s unclear where these data points overlap, but the request by Chaplain Crews that civilians at least be allowed to fill-in while the Navy “follow[s] the guidance” seems both reasonable and justified. If the Navy has refused to do so — as it appears thus far — the criticism of the Navy’s adverse impact on the recruits religious freedom seems valid. (That is, the legitimate criticism, not the “you’re spiritually raping our clients…” invective.)
While it may be logistically impossible to provide a faith leader for every belief represented in the recruit training pool, when one is available, they should be permitted to help the Navy support the religious liberties of those recruits — regardless of their particular faith.