Bill Held Up by Controversial Provision on Military Chaplains' Prayers

September 18, 2006

Source: The New York Times

On September 18, 2006 The New York Times reported, "A bill that sets the Pentagon’s spending levels is being held up by controversy over a provision that would allow military chaplains to offer sectarian prayers at nondenominational military events.

The provision, which is being pushed by Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, says 'chaplains in each of the military services would have the prerogative to pray according to the dictates of their own conscience.' The Senate version of the spending bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, has no such language.

Chaplains can pray according to the traditions of their faith at worship services, where attendance is voluntary. But they are also called upon to offer prayers at mandatory functions, like changes of command, banquets and speeches.

The provision’s backers, among them Representative Walter B. Jones, Republican of North Carolina, contend that Christian chaplains in such cases have long invoked Christ.

'What is happening is a move toward more political correctness, towards more secularism in the military,' Mr. Jones said. ' cannot believe that the majority of Americans would be offended that a person prayed to his God.'

Opponents of the provision and other chaplains dispute Mr. Jones’s version of chaplaincy tradition. They say that at mandatory events, the longstanding custom has been to offer a nonsectarian prayer, for example, citing God, rather than Christ.

The Defense Department, the main military chaplains association and a variety of ecumenical groups have spoken against the provision, saying that sectarian prayer would create division within the military."