Religious Liberty Struggle in the US Navy?

By Liberty Institute, Special for  USDR

This week, a Navy official denied Chaplain Wes Modder’s request for religious accommodation. Although Chaplain Modder’s Marine and Navy SEAL commanders have called him “a national asset” and “the best of the best” the Navy is threatening Chaplain Modder with career-ending punishment because he expressed faith-based beliefs in private counseling sessions with sailors. Read the Navy’s letter, denying accommodation to Chaplain Modder:  

Liberty Institute attorneys assert that the Navy’s action is a violation of federal law and Department of Defense (DoD) regulations. TheNavy based its denial of Chaplain Modder’s rights on old, outdated regulations, which were superseded by updated DoD policies in 2014. (Read DoD policy: The Navy is also not complying with a new law passed by Congress in 2014 that protects military chaplains’ religious freedom (Read Sec. 533 of law: Liberty Institute highlights the following sections from military  regulations:

Navy chaplains are never required to compromise the standards of their Religious Organization…  ($File/Signed%20SECNAV%20INSTRUCTION%205351%201.pdf)

Delivery of care is informed, guided and shaped by the chaplain’s unique pastoral identity and insight…(,%20Community%20and%20Religious%20Services/1730.1E.pdf)

Liberty Institute states that by requiring Chaplain Modder to compromise the standards of his endorsing denomination, the Assemblies of God, the Navy is violating the Constitution, federal law, and Department of Defense regulations. This constitutes unlawful censorship of Chaplain Modder’s free exercise of religion. Liberty Institute plans to file an  appeal.

“The Navy is trying to use outdated, obsolete policies to deny a chaplain his rights,” said Mike Berry, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel and Director of Military Affairs. “The Navy appears to be rebelling against the new DOD regulations and thumbing its nose at Congress and the Secretary of Defense. That is totally  unacceptable.”

Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford said, “We will not sit by while the Navy completely disregards federal law on religious freedom. The stakes are far too high. The future religious liberty of every solider, sailor, and chaplain in the U.S. military hangs in the  balance.”

Political, military, and religious leaders have offered unwavering support for Chaplain Modder. Senator Ted Cruz called Modder “the latest target in a series of assaults on religious liberty in the military.” Lt. Gen. (RET) William G. “Jerry” Boykin called the Navy’sactions “unacceptable,” while Franklin Graham, CEO of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association said, “[As] a highly decorated 19-year military veteran, Modder doesn’t deserve this—nor does anyone.” Former presidential candidates Governor Mike Huckabee andSenator Rick Santorum, President of Family Research Council Tony Perkins, Congressman Doug Collins, and Modder’s denominational endorser, the Assemblies of God have also rallied to Chaplain Modder’s  defense.

Case Background: Chaplain Wes Modder is a Navy chaplain and former Marine who previously served as the Force chaplain for Naval Special Warfare Command. He has deployed overseas multiple times during the War on Terror, including in support of DEVGRU (aka “SEAL Team Six”) and other Navy SEAL teams in high-profile operations around the globe. The Navy is threatening Chaplain Modder with career-ending punishment because, when asked, he expressed faith-based views on faith, marriage, and human sexuality in private counseling sessions with sailors. Liberty Institute is defending Chaplain Modder and asserts that censoring his religious expression is unconstitutional religious discrimination. Read more about Modder’s case:

About Liberty institute
Liberty Institute is the largest nonprofit legal organization in the nation dedicated solely to defending religious liberty in America. Liberty Institute protects freedom of religious expression in our schools, churches, military, and throughout the public arena. For more information, visit

SOURCE Liberty  Institute

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