Defying federal law, U.S. Navy denies 'religious accommodation' for embattled chaplain

by Karen L. Willoughby, |
In 2012, Chaplain Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder offered an invocation during a Sept. 11 commemoration ceremony at the Coronado Fire Department in Coronado, California. The ceremony observed the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks and honored those who lost their lives and loved ones in 2001. | U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Benjamin Crossley

GOOSE CREEK, S.C. (Christian Examiner) – In continued defiance of federal law, a U.S. Navy official denied Chaplain Wes Modder's request for religious accommodation this week.

Modder's Marine and Navy SEAL commanders have called him a "national asset" and "the best of the best," but when a complaint was made about the 29-year chaplain's words during private counseling sessions – words in keeping with the Assembly of God doctrines under which he ministers – the chaplain was accused of failing to show "tolerance and respect" regarding sexuality.

"Navy officials are using outdated, obsolete policies to deny a chaplain his rights," said Mike Berry, senior counsel and director of military affairs for the Liberty Institute, the religious liberties legal firm representing Modder.

"Navy officials appear to be rebelling against the new Department of Defense (DoD) regulations and thumbing their nose at Congress and the Secretary of Defense," Berry continued. "This is totally unacceptable."

Liberty Institute will now appeal on Modder's behalf.

The outdated regulations on which a Navy official based his denial of the chaplain's rights were superseded in 2014 with updated DoD policies. In addition, a law passed in 2014 by Congress protects military chaplains' religious freedom.

In addition to DoD regulations, by requiring Chaplain Modder to compromise the standards of the Assemblies of God denomination's doctrines, Navy officials are violating the Constitution and federal law, according to the Liberty Institute, which is charging the Navy's lack of respect for exemplary service.

Modder by all accounts has a doctorate degree in military ministry and previously a spotless, exceptional record of service. He was force chaplain for Naval Special Warfare Command before moving to Goose Creek last year at the special request of a 4-star admiral to serve at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command.

His difficulty started when he was asked during private counseling sessions for spiritual guidance regarding certain personal conduct," according to Liberty Institute.

"They were looking for someone to tell them what they wanted to hear," Berry said. "And when they didn't hear what they wanted to hear, they complained."

According to the Liberty Institute, "with total disregard for military courtesy, Navy officials did not follow the usual procedure of getting Chaplain Modder's side of the story, and they rushed to judgment against him.

"U.S. Navy officials have removed this highly-decorated chaplain and military hero from his unit and isolated him at the base chapel. Chaplain Modder has been cut off from his sailors, and he is forbidden from ministering to their spiritual needs."

Among the political, military and religious leaders who have offered unwavering support for Modder are Senators Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William G. 'Jerry' Boykin, Franklin Graham and Tony Perkins.

"We will not sit by while Navy officials completely disregard federal law on religious freedom," said Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford. "The stakes are too high. The future religious liberty of every service member and chaplain in the U.S. military hangs in the balance."