Military Chaplains Exist to Protect Religious Rights

In a fairly bluntly worded official Air Force article, SSgt Shelton Sherrill provided a decent explanation for the sometimes misunderstood role of a military chaplain:

According to the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. For military members, chaplains are one of main advocates to help them protect this right.

Chaplains…provide religious accommodations to ensure everyone is free to exercise their beliefs, provide ethical advice to leadership, unit visitations and confidential counseling.

Edit: Actually, commanders are the ones who provide religious accommodations, not chaplains, as chaplains have no authority to authorize anything. (Chaplains famously have “rank without command.”) However, chaplains are generally the first person in the request process, and they are the person to whom the commander goes about the request.

Just as members of the military take the Oath of Enlistment and swear to defend the Constitution’s liberties for civilians, chaplains defend military members’ religious freedoms. Chaplains make sure Airmen are not denied the opportunity to witness their faith, said 403rd Wing Chaplain (Capt.) Matthew Bryant.

Providing advice to leadership is one of the many ways chaplains ensure this. They council [sic] leaders on religious requirements and make sure accommodations are met for members…

The challenge on that last part, of course, is the same for military lawyers and doctors providing advice on their subject matter expertise: Making sure the SME is actually correct, and then getting the commander to actually listen to the SME.

You might be surprised how many lawyers, chaplains, etc., provide advice based on their (potentially flawed) viewpoint and perspective, rather than the law and religious liberty. No one is perfect, of course. The distinguishing factor is those who recognize that limitation in themselves.

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