Congress directs Navy, Air Force to drop sectarian prayer ban


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Navy and Air Force chaplains may invoke the name of Jesus when praying, after Congress directed the military branches to rescind their "non-sectarian" prayer policy.

The order came Sept. 29 as part of a massive defense bill signed by Congress. According to published reports U.S. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., blocked language in the Defense Authorization Act which would have let chaplains pray according to their conscience. California Congressman Duncan Hunter, a Republican, held firm, however, and secured non-negotiable language in the "Conference Report" forcing the Navy and Air Force to rescind their policies.

The action was a victory for Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt, who was recently court-martialed for failing to abide by the directive.

"Praise be to God, military chaplains can once again pray freely in Jesus' name!" Klingenschmitt said in a news release. "Although this fight may have cost my career and my pension, it was well worth it, because now at least other chaplains will be given the same religious liberty I was denied."

Klingenschmitt was embroiled in a long-term battle with Navy officials after he was reprimanded for praying the words "in Jesus' name" while in uniform. In January, the chaplain went on an 18-day hunger fast protesting the military's policy.

The Navy ignored the effort, issuing a "Religious Ministry within the Department of the Navy," directive Feb. 21 that maintained the ban. A similar directive was in place with the Air Force.

In March, Klingenschmitt, while in uniform, prayed in front of the White House with former Alabama Chief Justic Roy Moore and Dr. Rick Scarborough of Vision America.

"This is the incident that prompted the Navy to move against this brave man," Scarborough said in a news release. "Now, Chaplain Klingenschmitt has been vindicated, He has forced the Navy to change course. It all goes to show what one committed Christian can do."

The Sept. 29 action reverses the spring directive.

"This conference report has teeth," Janet Folger, founder and president of Faith2Action, said in a news release. "It restores freedom of speech to military chaplains, it restores the law since 1860 that traditionally let chaplains pray in Jesus' name in any setting, and it serves a swift rebuke to Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter. He's now been ordered by Congress to rescind his illegal policy, and stop his censorship of chaplains' prayers."

Klingenschmitt said he's hopeful the decision by Congress may help to overturn his recent court-martial conviction. On Sept. 14, the jury recommended a reprimand and a $250 a month fine for one year for Klingenschmitt.

"When my court-martial judge ruled that wearing my uniform during 'public worship' is only safe inside Sunday chapel, but that 'worshipping in public' in uniform can be criminally punished if you disobey orders, he based his ruling on that same illegal policy Congress just rescinded... "