A group of 24 Republican lawmakers are demanding an explanation about why the Army disciplined a military chaplain for making references to the Bible during a suicide-prevention seminar.
In a letter addressed to Army Secretary John McHugh, lawmakers wrote:
We believe this administrative action sets a dangerous precedent for Army suicide prevention initiatives, the role of Army chaplains, and most importantly, the ability for service members to exercise and express religious beliefs, as protected under the First Amendment and reinforced by current law and [Department of Defense] regulations.
In addition to 17 U.S. Representatives, Senators Mike Lee, R-Utah, Ted Cruz, R-Texas, James Inhofe, R-Okla., Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Vitter, R-La., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and James Lankford, R-Okla. co-signed the letter.
The lawmakers called the disciplinary action “unwarranted,” and said it “sends the wrong message not only to chaplains of all faith traditions throughout the Army, but also to soldiers as well, that spirituality and religion are not welcome in the Army as viable methods for coping with suicidal thoughts or other personal issues more broadly.”
The chaplain, Capt. Joe Lawhorn, was punished last November after conducting a training session on suicide prevention at the University of North Georgia.
During the suicide prevention session, Lawhorn shared his personal struggles with depression while serving as an Army Ranger and explained how he learned to conquer adversity by following the example of Israel’s warrior king, David, one of the great heroes of the Old Testament.
>>> Military Punishes Chaplain for Referring to the Bible in Suicide-Prevention Seminar
Lawhorn also passed out a handout that drew from the Bible’s Book of Psalms and referenced its central Jewish figure, David, as an example of how to manage thoughts of depression and suicide.
A serviceman alerted an atheist group, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, about the chaplain’s comments.
The atheist group complained about it.
“This chaplain violated the privilege and responsibility he had and he exploited that opportunity to push his personal religious beliefs on the captive audience of military personnel,” Jason Torpy, president of the organization that filed the complaint told The Daily Signal in an earlier interview.
Lawhorn then received a letter of concern from Col. David Fivecoat, commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade at Fort Benning, Ga., faulting him for “using Christian scriptures and solutions.” The disciplinary letter said:
During this training, you advocated, or were perceived to advocate for Christianity and used Christian scripture and solutions. This is in direct contrast with Army Regulation 600-20 and violates the Army’s Equal Opportunity Policy.
It will remain in the chaplain’s file for up to three years.
In their letter to Secretary McHugh, the 24 lawmakers requested that the Army review the incident as it relates to federal law—in specific the First Amendment right to free speech—and demanded an explanation of a chaplain’s role in conducting Army training.
“We fully expect Army to take the steps necessary in protecting the religious freedom of all soldiers while affirming the vital role of chaplains in ensuring the well-being of our soldiers,” they wrote.
Read the full letter here: