Navy chaplain ousted on grounds overturned by Congress


NORFOLK, Va. — While the Navy has rescinded a regulation that restricted chaplains from conducting public worship outside of Sunday chapels, an evangelical claims the military branch is firing him for violating that guideline.

A chaplain at the Naval Air Station in Norfolk, Va., Lt. Gordon Klingenschmitt has been ordered out of the Navy as of Jan. 31, cutting short a military career that began 15 years ago as a missile officer in the Air Force.

"We're being evicted from our home and I have no job," Klingenschmitt, a graduate of the Air Force Academy, told BP News. "We're in God's hands. We're accepting speaking invitations and will pursue whatever opportunities God presents."

The Navy took steps to remove Klingenschmitt from duty after he resigned from the Evangelical Episcopal Church following his court-martial for praying in uniform in front of the White House last March.

However, Klingenschmitt argues that at the same time he resigned his ordination with the Episcopal group, he received the endorsement of the Dallas-based Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches.

Klingenschmitt said he prayed at the White House to protest the Navy's prohibition against publicly praying in Jesus' name, a regulation overturned last fall by congressional action.

"Congress ordered the Navy to rescind the policy for which I'm being punished," Klingenschmitt said. "My sacrifice and court-martial caused such an uproar with the public that Congress rebuked the Navy and now other chaplains have the freedom I was denied."

His imminent discharge from the Navy led the Rutherford Institute to file a lawsuit in late October, about three weeks before Vice Admiral J.C. Harvey Jr. sent a letter informing Klingenschmitt of its decision.

Injunction attempt fails
Klingenschmitt's attempt to secure a temporary injunction preventing the dismissal was rejected by a U.S. District Court Judge in early January.

However, Doug McKuisick of the Rutherford Institute said the lawsuit will continue.

"We felt there were free speech and religious freedom issues involved with this case," said McKuisick, a staff attorney. "That's why we agreed to take this case."

The government has filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing Klingenschmitt doesn't have a legal claim. If the Rutherford Institute successfully opposes the motion, McKuisick said it will continue to press for reinstatement and back pay.

Jim Ammerman, director of the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches, said he considers the Navy's decision to reject his group's endorsement of Klingenschmitt an insult, since the Pentagon recognized CFGC as an endorsing agent 25 years ago.

The retired Army chaplain said he had written Chief of Chaplains, Adm. Robert Burt, to express his displeasure but has never received a response.

"I have a letter from 62 chaplains (claiming) mistreatment by the Navy," Ammerman said. "I suspect the Navy was more wrong than he was; the Navy has been wrong so many times."

In outlining the Navy's decision, Vice Admiral Harvey said in his letter that a new endorsement does not automatically call for recertification. Evidence, Harvey said, shows Klingenschmitt to be professionally unsuited for further service.

"A new ecclesiastical endorsement is just one factor to be considered in evaluating whether a chaplain's professional qualification should be recertified," Harvey wrote. "Other factors include the officer's record of professional performance and accomplishment, disciplinary record, if any, and chain of command support."

Harvey termed Klingenschmitt's recent performance unsatisfactory, noting below-average marks in an evaluation for military bearing and character. The vice admiral also cited the chaplain's Sept. 14 court-martial for violating a superior officer's order and a lack of support from his community leader.

Klingenschmitt said problems with his superiors started in 2004, when he preached a memorial service in Norfolk for a sailor whom he had led to accept Jesus as Savior.

Despite his problems, Klingenschmitt said he has no regrets with his actions to stand on his convictions.

"I've lost my pension, I've lost my home and I've lost my car, but it's worth it because I still have Jesus," the chaplain said. "I have not forsaken Him."