Navy Reverses, Rules for Embattled Chaplain Modder

For the past six months, US Navy Chaplain (LtCmdr) Wes Modder has been fighting for his career after his commander, CAPT Jon Fahs, requested he be “detached for cause” (PDF) and then defend why he should be retained in the Navy. The primary charge was he “failed to show tolerance and respect” when he made certain statements about sexuality.

Last week, the US Navy Personnel Command informed Captain Fahs that his request for Chaplain Modder to be Detached for Cause was denied, as was his request for Modder to “show cause” to remain in the Navy. Rear Admiral David F. Steindl wrote (PDF):

Your request for detachment for cause in the case of LCDR Modder…has been reviewed and is disapproved. I have found the evidence of substandard performance in this case does not meet the standard of gross negligence or complete disregard of duty… LCDR Modder will not be detached for cause.

In other words, the Admiral said CAPT Fahs was wrong.

To be “detached for cause” (DFC) in Navy parlance essentially means being reassigned to a different unit due to misconduct, and it is no small matter. The Navy regulation on DFCs (MILPERSMAN 1611-020) says

DFC is one of the strongest administrative measures used in the case of officers…A DFC has a serious effect on the officer’s future naval career…

As a result of that gravity, the reg also requires the Navy commander to execute a fairly thorough (and time-intensive) process of counseling, documentation, and discipline — none of which appears to have occurred for Chaplain Modder. Further, in the original DFC request, CAPT Fahs said

A letter of instruction and counseling is inappropriate in this case… Disciplinary action in this case would not be appropriate based on the nature of his offenses…

It would seem that CAPT Fahs had no “appropriate” basis (or was perhaps unwilling) to officially punish Chaplain Modder.

And it would seem RADM Steindl agreed.

An anonymous “official familiar with the investigation” apparently faulted CAPT Fahs for precisely this reason:

“There is no documentation of poor performance in his personnel record…”

“There was no record of counseling. There was no letter of instruction given to Chaplain Modder by the command and non-judicial punishment was not conducted,” the official said.

It’s almost as if CAPT Fahs was reluctant to personally punish Chaplain Modder — perhaps thinking that punishing a chaplain for counseling wouldn’t withstand scrutiny — so he tried to have Navy Personnel Command kick him out instead.

It is a positive sign that Navy Personnel Command denied the punitive “administrative action” against Chaplain Modder that was initiated based on expression of tenets of a religious faith. In that regard, the “system” worked.

It remains an issue, however, that a Navy chaplain was essentially (and intentionally) targeted by homosexuals within the military, and that he was presumed to be in the wrong — despite the huge amount of press and congressional attention the issue of religion and homosexuality has had indicating the protected status of religious expression and chaplains.

This wasn’t a harmless complaint, either, as Chaplain Modder was clearly presumed “guilty,” censured by his commander, and then left in the lurch for six months wondering if he would even be allowed to remain in the US military.  It is even possible the outcome may have been different if not for an aggressive defense by Chaplain Modder, including his alliance with the Liberty Institute and former JAG Mike Berry.

So while the system “worked” and found in favor of Chaplain Modder, there remains an underlying issue of how ignorance, prejudice, and the Navy’s Equal Opportunity complaint system unnecessarily initiated the system to begin with.

The open question, then, is who learned what lesson:

  • Have CAPT Fahs, the Navy, and the military at large been reminded about the application of religious freedom to the topic of homosexuality? (Notably, CAPT Fahs’ then-immediate commander, Admiral John Richardson, now sits on the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the Chief of Naval Operations.)
  • Seeing the process and result, are military chaplains now more or less likely to speak from the tenets of their faith? What lesson do you think the service men and women who share the beliefs of those chaplains took away?
  • Have homosexual activists who disagree with military policy on religious beliefs and expression discovered a successful way to attack chaplains and religious servicemembers?

Finally, what of the groups who cheered Chaplain Modder’s crucifixion and presumed ouster? Take Michael “Mikey” Weinstein — someone who claims he supports religious freedom — who said in April [formatting original]:

The United States Navy has officially investigated and determined that [Chaplain Modder] is nothing more than a common bigot and that his bigoted BEHAVIOR is clearly deleterious to the most basic and essential military necessity of ensuring optimal unit cohesion, good order, morale, discipline and mission readiness.

Actually, the United States Navy has just officially determined those accusations by Weinstein to be untrue. Think Weinstein will publish an apology for being wrong…again?

The result of Chaplain Modder’s arduous journey can be logged as a victory for religious liberty.

Still, the process that took him there — including allegations of targeting by homosexual service members and a commander springloaded to call religious expression “a significant departure” from standards and a set-up for “tragedy” — remains an area of concern for those who value a culture of diversity, tolerance, and religious freedom within the military.

All files on Chaplain Modder’s case are available at the Liberty Institute. Also at OneNewsNow and the ChristianPost.