The US Army recently released Field Manual 1-05 (FM 1-05), Religious Support, the
Army’s keystone manual for detailing fundamental principles of comprehensive religious support.
Much of the 40-page manual is little more than logistics and structural guidance on how chaplains and religious support are to be integrated into Army operations. That the Army felt the need to publish such a document, however, is one indicator of the high value it places on such religious support.
The manual begins with an introduction on the history and importance of chaplains:
Chaplains have served in the U.S. Army since the first days of the American Revolution and many have died in combat. These chaplains represented more than 120 separate denominations and faith groups from across America. Six chaplains have been awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism above and beyond the call of duty…
That hardly sounds like the Army has forbidden chaplains from serving in combat, as one military atheist likes to claim. The manual also notes the Constitutional need for chaplains in the US military:
The personal needs of Soldiers, the mission at hand, their own faith, and emerging religious support doctrine have guided these chaplains and their assistants as they met the goal to uphold the free exercise of religion ensured by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.
In an interesting inclusion, the manual specifically notes chaplains have an internal role — serving the religious needs of troops — but they can also have an external role — which might include, for example, engaging indigenous populations on a religious level to assist in accomplishing the mission.
Most importantly, the manual emphasizes the role of the chaplaincy as an advisor to the commander. As noted in some debates over the roles of chaplains in the US Air Force, military commanders — not chaplains — are responsible for the spiritual welfare of their troops, something this regulation makes explicitly clear [emphasis added]:
The Army Chaplaincy is established to advise and assist commanders in the discharge of their responsibilities to provide for the free exercise of religion in the context of military service as guaranteed by the Constitution, to assist commanders in managing Religious Affairs and to serve as the principal advisors to commanders for all issues regarding the impact of religion on military operations.
As if to punctuate that point, FM 1-05 notes religious accommodation is discussed in another regulation (AR 600-20) entitled Command Policy — because accommodation is a function of command, not the chaplaincy.
Commanders provide for the free exercise of religion for Soldiers, Families, and authorized civilians…Commanders enable religious support functions as prescribed in Army regulations. The Army accommodates religious practices when such accommodations do not impede military readiness or hinder unit cohesion, standards, health, safety or discipline. Accommodating religious practices is weighed against military necessity and not guaranteed at all times.
While much of the Field Manual is a dry read on administration, there are a few interesting bits on duties and responsibilities. Ultimately, the US Army officially recognizes the need (both Constitutionally-mandated and necessary to readiness) to support the spiritual requirements of its troops.
And it does so without controversy.
As noted at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS.org).