A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree
Master of Theology
Chaplains in the military face a unique challenge in the practice of some of their respective faith rites. For the Army, the challenge to chaplains’ respective faith practices resulted from the fall-out behind the post-1979 lawsuit against the Secretary of the Army and the Army Chaplaincy by Katcoff and Wieder. Prior to the lawsuit chaplains freely exercised the practice of using sectarian references for the divine based solely on their respective convictions and conscience.
The impetus for me to write this paper stems from the early days of my
civilian ministry and lasted up to the final daft of the larger thesis work
this paper is based on. Since the
completion of my thesis for my Master of Theology degree from
A Washington Star article in 1980 addressed, namely, the conscious and intentional avoidance of using a sectarian name for the divine by military Chaplains and serves as the date when the trend toward restricting the exercise of chaplains’ religious rites in the public-military square began.
During my tenure in various units, I received both spoken and tacit guidance to avoid concluding public, (ceremonial, or patriotic) prayers, “in the name of Jesus.” Army Regulation 165-1, para 4-4h, states, “Chaplains will not be required to offer a prayer, if doing so would be in variance with the tenets or practices of their faith group.”  While this may seem an appropriate remedy, many chaplains find it difficult to refuse a commander’s request to provide prayer on these occasions.
It is the aim of this thesis to expand, and refine, an additional dimension to understanding pluralist expressions. The desired result is a fuller appreciation for authenticity in plural religious expressions during military ceremonial and patriotic events in which chaplains lead prayer. The goal is to engender a healthy mix, and to embrace the varied religious, and secular contributions each military member brings with her/him into the “melting pot” of the U. S. Army, specifically, and the Armed Forces in general. When service members know that there is mutual respect, and embrace for their diverse religious, and/or non-religious personhood unit cohesion reaches optimal operational readiness levels producing a high degree of fidelity to good order and discipline within the force: overshadowed only by a Soldier’s commitment to securing our national ethos of freedom.
This thesis seeks support for Christian chaplains, and chaplains of other faith groups to exercise freely the broad range of sectarian expressions in their repertoire as they perform in military ceremonial and patriotic activities. I will explore this matter by looking at what my research leads me to believe is the U. S. Army’s view of religious pluralism. As well, I shall propose the option of allowing broad range sectarian expressions during military ceremonial and patriotic activities without violating the religion based prohibition clauses in our constitution.
Let me begin by saying what is not
called for in this thesis. This thesis
does not call for the total cultural amalgamation that the
early “enthusiasts of the ‘melting pot’” 
ideal anticipated for
My goal is to influence an embrace of and respect for the vast differences in the multiple expressions of faith that ministers bring into the Chaplaincy. As Drazin and Currey note, there are broad nuances in religious practices, even within the same group of faith practitioners. To affect balance within the Supreme Court’s “limited intrusion” provision for governmental intrusion, Drazin and Curry provide this crucial guidance:
If an individual follows beliefs different from the doctrines of a parent body, this
does not detract in any way from the importance of such observances, the religiosity
or the commitment of that person, or the protection afforded those activities under the
First Amendment. Constitutional guarantees are not to be restricted to groups or to
generally accepted practices. “By fostering this [individualism], our nation is
strengthened, for the people respect a government that treats its charges as free-
willed, discerning, moral beings. Our republic prides itself on the enormous diversity
of religious and political beliefs which have been able to find acceptance and
toleration on our shores.” Government officials must respect even those whose
beliefs and practices are fundamentally opposed to the views held by the majority.
“The fullest realization of true religious liberty requires that government . . . effect no
favoritism among sects.”
While Drazin and Currey’s guidance appear to target non-chaplains in
general, one must understand that chaplains are Soldiers as well. Save for the bearing of arms, chaplains are
considered non-combatants, in accord with the provisions of the August 12, 1949
In the U. S. Army the meaning of religious pluralism for the chaplaincy encompasses understanding the diversity of religious expressions within its ranks over against “the ultimate superiority of [one] religion over all others.”
The chaplain program strives to support all religious groups while reaching as many
Soldiers as possible. . . . Chaplains are charged with providing services to all
Soldiers, regardless of denomination. If a particular chaplain cannot provide a needed
service, the chaplain must find someone qualified to provide the service.
In practice, the above definition stands in stark contrast to how chaplains behaved during the Chaplaincy’s formative years. As Drazin and Currey note, “chaplains held strongly parochial views. Primarily Protestant, they acted as exhorters striving to win Soldiers to their own particular sectarian beliefs. Intolerant of other views, they laid the wrath of their scourge on those of different faiths, and regularly mingled (and mangled) the holy and the profane.”
It is not my aim to imply in the least that we return to such a shortsighted historical approach. But, rather, in some degree, assent to John Hick’s “modest and largely negative conclusion that, so far as we can tell, no one of the great world religions is salvifically superior to the rest.” As well, no one of the great world religions is damnably inferior to the rest. These points illustrate a clear need for caution against articulating such positions if pluralistic religious expressions become an accepted norm at military ceremonial and patriotic events.
Because of the historical intolerance “of other views . . . and
regular[ity] in the mingl[ing] (and mangl[ing]) [of] the holy and the profane”
religious pluralism was not an issue up for debate within the Army
Chaplaincy. While historical intolerance
was a systemic reality for the Chaplain’s Corps, the origin of this intolerant
ethos is the “melting pot” assimilationist ideal of what it meant to be an
American during the fledgling period of our nation’s history, viz., to be
American is to be Protestant. “. .
. The Puritans [believed
During its early history, no significant work or discussion on the meaning and practice of religious pluralism within the Chaplaincy occurred: in part due to the sola Protestant ethos mentioned earlier. However, this would all change when a serendipitous event in the chaplaincy’s history forced an examination of all its policies and practices.
A lawsuit filed by Joel Katcoff and Allan M. Wieder on November 23, 1979 against the Chaplaincy ignited the impetus for a top down review of the Chaplaincy. Its view of pluralism and other religious programs received intense scrutiny. While the plaintiffs were unwittingly responsible for this review, their suit goes to the heart of indicating how long it took to generate serious discussion about the meaning of religious pluralism in its military context. Everything came under scrutiny” resulting in the Chaplaincy abandoning the practice of intolerance for other religious views and a vow to cooperate with other religious practitioners.
In reviewing DA PAM 27-50-312, one will note that embodied in the prohibition against referring to “divinity by any sectarian name . . . [in favor of] ‘generic’ terms” is a neo-intolerance that is reminiscent of the intolerance Abercrombie saw in the Puritans. It is critical that the Army Chaplaincy refines the meaning and implications of pluralism to fulfill its solidly constitutional role of ensuring the religious free exercise for all. Without its lead, the military climate will not progress to an even higher state of readiness that, for me, embracing religious pluralism offers.
The Army, long a pioneer in achieving success in social reform, can again
lead the way in this vital religious “free-exercise” matter. Moreover, taking this lead requires command
support to ensure respect for and acknowledgement of all religious expressions
as valid and legitimate expressions of their respective practitioners, worthy
of free, non-abrasive expressions in public and in private. Such an embrace undergirds the establishment
of an affinity for the religiously diverse nation that is
When done well we enrich
After settling the mode of voting . . . it was agreed to open the business with prayer. As many of our warmest friends are members of the Church of England, [I] thought it prudent, as well on that as on some other accounts, to move that the service should be performed by a clergyman of that denomination.” Samuel Adams to J. Warren, 9 September, 1774. John Adams says it was Cushing who made the motion that business be opened with prayer, and John Jay and Rutledge opposed it on the ground of a diversity in religious sentiments.
That [sic] Samuel Adams asserted he was no bigot, and could hear a prayer from any gentleman of piety and virtue, who was at the same time a friend of his country; and nominated Duché.
Duché attended in full pontificals, read several prayers in the established form, the collect for the day (Psalm XXXV), and then “struck out into an extemporary prayer, which filled the bosom of every man present. I must confess I never heard a better prayer, or one so well pronounced. * * * It has had an excellent effect upon everybody here.” John Adams to his wife, -- September, 1774. Joseph Reed thought the appointment and prayer a “masterly stroke of policy.” Ward recorded “one of the most sublime, catholic, well-adapted prayers I ever heard.”
While it is clear that
no reference to divinity by a specific sectarian name occurs, the sentiment
that he used one is strong—especially, if Duché’s extemporaneous prayer
emanated from the “spirit” of the early settlers’ belief that our nation was
embarking upon Christ’s millennial reign.
Additionally, the universal (catholic) prayer of Ward’s does not mean he
closed in a non-sectarian fashion. I
suspect there were no great objections to the name of Jesus during this period
since most early settlers and the framers of our government immigrated here
during the Reformation movement through
Another significant period of this sola Protestant Christianity sentiment
is evident during
To usher in the same non-bigoted spirit toward prayer that Samuel Adams, et al had let us embrace the option of allowing broad range sectarian prayer expressions at military ceremonial and patriotic events. In doing so, the public gets the opportunity to witness the varied religious richness in the make up of the Chaplains’ Corps. With commanders’ encouragement and support for the free exercise rights of chaplains the public will become familiar with an Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist, etcetera, chaplain’s prayer ritual. Moreover, when they hear Chaplains close their respective prayers in the name of Allah, YAHWEH, Buddha, etcetera, the public becomes familiar with the unfamiliar. The unfamiliar becomes familiar lessening the “ignorance factor” that produces intolerance.
From this experience the public will realize the non-viability of “. . . an imagined past of cultural [and religious] homogeneity.” The public will readily embrace an appreciation for an ethic of religious pluralism for the U. S. Army that reflects the notion of “embracing” as the transformative agent in our current stance on religious pluralism. Embracing religious pluralism is analogous to the expression of genuine religious disagreement and genuine religious convictions harmoniously existing: each lending an ear to listen to and appreciate another and a voice that serves as the channel through which disagreements and convictions undergo examination and clarification.
My concluding word seeks to address several questions this work may raise for those who think my position shortsighted and/or insensitive to those who are a-religious or of other religious traditions. One misses the point of my argument if one thinks this. My argument is not only a call for authenticity for those called on to perform such tasks, but to expose believers and non-believers to the beauty of the religiously plural nation we all work, live, play, and die in. It is an attempt to live out the full letter of our highly valued constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression. In my opinion, we lessen the First Amendment when we restrict public religious expressions.
Carrying this conversation a little further, yes, most public prayers are communal. They are communal in the sense that other community members are present. Yet, this is not an excuse to permit disingenuousness. Persons must be true to who they are or their integrity is suspect. Integrity is the greater value to maintain. We expect our politicians, military leaders, and other civic officials to maintain sound ethical behavior, why should we advocate a diminished level of authentic integrity from clergy when they pray in the public square.
The triumphant bourgeoisie wanted to make the public sphere free of religion. They claimed that the public realm could be one of ‘rational’ politics and of social emancipation. Therefore, by definition there could be no specifically religious participation in the public sphere. It was to be a realm where only open debate, rational argumentation, and logical persuasion were to be employed in a discussion of public policy issues. It was to be a “value free” realm . . . in which authoritarian, superstitious, or religiously legitimated ideas were excluded by their very nature.
It is clear to the author that those who find themselves in favor of the maintenance of this bourgeois ethos will continue to object to what this thesis seeks. Yet, I challenge them to ask themselves, “why not allow religion in the public square?”
Inherent in my optimistic
personality is a strong belief that the road to change begins with the first
step. For the military, I believe, the
public embrace, through respect and acknowledgement as valid and legitimate
plural religious expressions will strengthen unit readiness. A spiritually fit Soldier is a ready
Soldier. Implementation of this refined
definition of religious pluralism will aid in increasing acceptance of the
multicultural and multi-religious composition of our force. As
Cox more eloquently states, “if [military leaders] understand and respect the
religious pluralism of the
Embracing religious pluralism as redefined is a step in this direction and provides support for Christian chaplains, and chaplains of other faith groups to exercise freely the broad range of sectarian expressions in their repertoire as they perform in military ceremonial and patriotic activities.
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. “In 1980, the Washington Star strangely and erroneously
reported that chaplains were forbidden to mention God.”
. “Military and patriotic ceremonies may require a
chaplain to provide an invocation, reading, prayer, or benediction. . . .
Chaplains will not be required to offer a prayer, if doing so would be
in variance with the tenets or practices of their faith group.” Religious
Activities: Chaplain Activities in the
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. Major Michael J. Benjamin, “Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue: Legal Analysis of Religion Issues in the Army,” The Army Lawyer: DA-PAM 27-50-312 (November 1998): http://www.maaf.info/downloads/armylawyer nov98religionissues.pdf.
New World College Dictionary, 4th ed., s.v., “Amendments to the
Constitution of the
. I recognize that many Protestant faith groups do not mandate that their clergy conclude prayers using a standard formula (e.g., “in Jesus’ name”). However, Christian chaplains choosing to do so based on their belief that John 14:12-14, 16:19-28 KJV requires this practice deserve to have their practice of the same honored.
. Clarence L. Abercrombie, III The Military Chaplaincy Vol. 37, Sage Library of Social Research (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 1977), 36-37.
. Will Herberg, Protestant-Catholic-Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1955), 33-34.
. Serendipity usually implies something “good,” results from an accidental discovery, but for the Chaplaincy, the lawsuit did not come about because of an accidental discovery. However, good did come: A more deliberate approach to and an affirmative view of religious pluralism resulted.
. Whether this was pre-lawsuit thinking is
unclear, but starting “in the late 1970s . . . a study group . . . grapple[d]
with the problem of how [to respect] . .
. free exercise of religion [and simultaneously maintain] . . . good order,
discipline, and morale.” The “principle
of ‘accommodation’” resulted after several years of study. This principle allows, “free expression of
religious beliefs unless they impinge on such things as readiness, good order
and discipline.” John Wesley Brinsfield,
Jr., Encouraging Faith, Supporting Soldiers:
. While Katcoff and Wieder would later abandon their lawsuit, the unfettered validation of the Chaplaincy’s constitutionality would not come for some time. On July 8, 2005, unfettered validation came from “Ms Helen Sullivan, Sr. Associate Deputy General Counsel, Office of the Deputy General Counsel . . . [she] declared that the military chaplaincy (Army, Air Force, and Navy) is Inherently Governmental ‘Across the board, based on the rationale provided in the Katcoff case with respect to the requirements and interplay of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.’” Johnny Mims. “FW: Decision of the General Counsel,” 08 July 2005, personal email (25 July 2005).
. Sabine “The Fifth Wheel,” 15. This policy changed to “a regularly ordained minister of some religious denomination” after nearly a year of Congressional debate.
. And since a “religious service does not take place à la AR 165-1’s guidance, and denominationally specific worship is not occurring, there is “no violation” of the establishment clause. It is “minimal exposure to religion” or other forms of religious/faith expressions that I propose. I propose this, not with the intent of having, as Drazin notes, “some effect on the minds of” those in attendance, (as is the intent of proselytizing), but of exposing and educating all about the truly diverse nature of our diverse nation—religiously and otherwise. For discussion on this, see Drazin, For God, 49-50.
. The exact point of “the  Religious
Freedom Restoration Act . . . though the Supreme Court later struck it down,”
this decision merits revisit. Bill
Clinton, My Life, (
Harvey Cox, “Citizens and Believers:
Always Strangers?” in, In Gods We
Trust: New Patterns of Religious