Nonsectarian Prayer Restrictions Result in Debate Among Chaplains

June 19, 2006


On June 19, 2006 reported, "Could Jesus be getting the boot from the military?

That’s a concern of some evangelical and fundamentalist Christian military chaplains.

They believe they’re being restricted from 'praying their conscience' at gatherings where troops of different faiths might attend, says the Rev. Billy Baugham, executive director of the Greenville-based International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers.

The group oversees about 350 of the military’s 2,800 chaplains, who represent more than 200 faith groups.

Others say the military is trying only to maintain a long-standing tradition of encouraging chaplains to be sensitive to all faiths.

'To say that Christians can’t be Christians in the military, that’s just complete and utter nonsense,' says Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Washington, which claims Christians, Jews, Buddhists and people with no religious affiliation among its members.

The Army, which established the chaplaincy in 1775, does not have specific guidelines for prayer including the use of Jesus’ name, says Ran Dolinger, a former instructor at Fort Jackson, home of the U.S. Army Chaplains Center and School.

'We do not censor prayers in the Army chaplaincy,' says Dolinger, a lieutenant colonel and Iraq war veteran. 'We really don’t want to tell people what they can and cannot say. We believe that would be going down a slippery slope.'

The debate centers on what kind of prayers should be offered at public or non-divine ceremonies � some of which troops are required to attend.

While praying to God is OK, questions have been raised as to whether it’s appropriate for a chaplain, who is an officer, to pray in Jesus’ name.

That would appear to be an endorsement by the command of Christian faith, some say.

But in a divine setting, such as a post chapel where attendance is voluntary, a chaplain may pray in his faith’s tradition.

A prayer does not have to close in Jesus’ name for it to be a Christian prayer, says Carl Evans, chairman of USC’s religious studies department.

He pointed out that the best-known Christian prayer � the Lord’s Prayer � does not mention Jesus at all.

'If a service is open and includes other faiths, then praying in Jesus’ name is insensitive,' Evans says."