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WASHINGTON, D.C.: Military chaplains told to shy from Jesus

WASHINGTON, D.C.: Military chaplains told to shy from Jesus

By Julia Duin
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
December 21, 2005

To pray -- or not to pray -- in Jesus' name is the question plaguing an increasing number of U.S. military chaplains, one of whom began a multiday hunger strike outside the White House yesterday.

"I am a Navy chaplain being fired because I pray in Jesus' name," said Navy Lt. Gordon Klingenschmitt, who will be holding 6 p.m. prayer vigils daily in Lafayette Park.

The hunger strike is intended to persuade President Bush to issue an executive order allowing military chaplains to pray according to their individual faith traditions.

The American Center for Law and Justice has gathered 173,000 signatures on a petition seeking an executive order. Seventy-three members of Congress have joined the request, saying in an Oct. 25 letter to the president, "In all branches of the military, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Christian chaplains to use the name of Jesus when praying."

About 80 percent of U.S. troops are Christian, the legislators wrote, adding that military "censorship" of chaplains' prayers disenfranchises "hundreds of thousands of Christian soldiers in the military who look to their chaplains for comfort, inspiration and support."

Official military policy allows any sort of prayer, but Lt. Klingenschmitt says that in reality, evangelical Protestant prayers are censored.

He cites his training at the Navy Chaplains School in Newport, R.I., where "they have clipboards and evaluators who evaluate your prayers, and they praise you if you pray just to God," he said. "But if you pray in Jesus' name, they counsel you."

Muslim, Jewish and Roman Catholic chaplains are likewise told not to pray in the name of Allah, in Hebrew or in the name of the Trinity, he added.

But the Rev. Billy Baugham, executive director of the Greenville, S.C.-based International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers, says restrictions on other religious expressions have "yet to be tested."

"No Islamic chaplain has been refused to pray in the name of Allah, as far as we know. Neither has a rabbi been rebuked for making references to Hanukkah, and no Catholic priest has been rebuked for referring to the Blessed Virgin Mary."

The Navy allows chaplains to pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Allah or any other deity during chapel services, spokeswoman Lt. Erin Bailey said.

At other public events, "Navy chaplains are encouraged to be sensitive to the needs of all those present," she said, "and may decline an invitation to pray if not able to do so for conscience reasons." Lt. Klingenschmitt has not been formally punished, she added, and there are no plans to take him off active duty.

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