Right-Wing Ex-Chaplain Issues Disclaimer After AU Protest

After a protest from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a former chaplain who misused his Navy uniform and title to raise money for Religious Right causes has added a disclaimer to his Web site making it clear he is no longer in the Navy.

Gordon James Klingenschmitt ran into problems two years ago when he defied Navy superiors’ orders to use non-sectarian prayers at military events where people from many different faith perspectives would be present. He later was forced out of the military after speaking at a Religious Right rally wearing his uniform – a violation of military regulations.

In April, several people sent Americans United a mass e-mailing from Klingenschmitt promoting a right-wing political Web site called www.prayinjesusname.org. On the site and in the e-mail, Klingenschmitt referred to himself as “Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt” and included a large picture of himself in a Navy uniform.

The e-mail and the Web site sought donations and implored people to oppose President Barack Obama’s nomination of U.S. District Judge David Hamilton to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a letter to Navy officials, Americans United and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) argued that Klingenschmitt’s e-mail and his Web site misled readers into thinking he is still an active-duty chaplain.

Federal law prohibits misuse of military uniforms. AU and MRFF argued that Klingenschmitt was attempting to depict himself as an active-duty chaplain to raise money and recruit people for his right-wing group – a possible violation of federal law.

The letter cited Title 18, Section 912 of the U.S. Code.

“By using a photo of himself in a naval uniform and signing his appeal as ‘Chaplain,’ Klingenschmitt has, we believe, violated this portion of federal law,” wrote AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn and MRFF President Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein to naval officials. “We urge you to investigate this matter and fully enforce the law.”

An angry Klingenschmitt bitterly criticized AU and MRFF for the action but did add a disclaimer to his Web site. It stated, “The views of former Navy Chaplain Klingenschmitt do not represent the views of the U.S. Navy. The picture of Chaplain Klingenschmitt in uniform is a picture of his former self, taken while he was serving on active duty….”

In response to AU’s letter, the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Office said, “The Administrative Law Division, Office of the Judge Advocate General will contact Mr. Klingenschmitt and inform him that, absent an appropriate disclaimer in his correspondence, use of the photograph depicting him in a naval uniform may, in fact, be contrary to federal law.”

Klingenschmitt, meanwhile, has called on his supporters to pray for the deaths of Lynn and Weinstein. He posted an audio and written prayer on his Web site that said, “Almighty God, today we pray imprecatory prayers from Psalm 109 against the enemies of religious liberty, including Barry Lynn and Mikey Weinstein, who recently issued a press release attacking me personally…. Let their days be few, and replace them with godly people. Plunder their fields and seize their assets. Cut off their descendants. And remember their sins. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

In other news about the Religious Right:

A new poll indicates that evangelical Christians are more likely to approve of torture than members of other religions and the non-religious.

The Pew Research Center found that 49 percent of the public overall said torture can “often” or “sometimes” be justified. Among white evangelicals, the number was 62 percent. The survey found that support for torture increased among those who reported attending church most often.

Several conservative Christian leaders have insisted that the poll’s methodology is flawed.