Ex-Chaplain’s Boss Says Religious Right Tales Inaccurate

Former Navy chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt, who claims he was court-martialed for praying in Jesus’ name, is quickly becoming the Religious Right’s latest hero – but his claims are not all they are cracked up to be, according to Klingenschmitt’s former boss.

Capt. Norm Holcomb, command chaplain at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, says Klingenschmitt lost his job for a more prosaic reason: He was insubordinate.

Long-standing naval regulations forbid service members from wearing their uniforms to political or partisan events. Nevertheless, Klingenschmitt insisted on wearing his uniform to a Religious Right-hosted protest and press conference opposing the military’s inclusive policies on religion.

On March 30, 2006, the former chaplain showed up on the street outside the White House in the company of former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, Reli­gious Right activist Rob Schenck and Rick Scarborough, a Texas preacher and Jerry Falwell acolyte. Americans United staffers were there and snapped several pictures of Klingenschmitt.

Despite his clear insubordination, Klingenschmitt is being feted by the\n Religious Right. This year, he plans to tour the nation with Scarborough and Religious Right activist Alan Keyes for a series of right-wing political rallies intended to turn out the vote for “Chris­tian” political candidates.

On March 7, the Kentucky House of Representatives invited Klingenschmitt to open its session with a prayer and went so far as to pass a resolution, on a voice vote, lauding him for his “service to God, country and the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

All of this was too much for Holcomb. He sent an e-mail to the Ken­tucky House, giving every representative the facts about the Klingenschmitt controversy.

Holcomb clarified an important point: Klingenschmitt, despite what his defenders say, was not punished for praying in the name of Jesus. He was court-martialed for refusing to follow orders.

“I was the dishonored ex-chaplain’s supervisor for the past 2 years,” Holcomb wrote in his message. “I found him to be totally untruthful, unethical and insubordinate. He was and is contemptuous of all authority. He was not court martialed for praying in Jesus’ name.

“I sent him out in uniform every week to pray at various ceremonies and functions,” Holcomb continued. “He always prayed in uniform and in Jesus’ name. He was never told that he could not pray in Jesus’ name. In fact, the issue of prayer had nothing at all to do with his dismissal from the Navy. He disobeyed the lawful order of a senior officer. I am sure that you understand that Navy Regulations forbid any of us, regardless of rank or position, to appear in uniform in support of any political or partisan event.”

Holcomb goes on to say, “He appeared in direct support of a political event, demonstrating contempt for the order of his Commanding Officer and Naval Regulations that we all swear that we will abide by…. The ex-chaplain is a man without honor and you have accepted his story and in doing so you have had ‘the wool pulled over your eyes.’”

Holcomb, an ex-marine who served in Vietnam, notes that he is himself is a “born-again evangelical Christian” who has been a naval chaplain for 27 years.

He writes, “We have been relatively quiet regarding our ex-chaplain’s un­truthfulness and lack of honor because we are embarrassed that one of our own could display such behavior in the name of our Lord. We wanted to spare all concerned the embarrassment associated with his dishonesty. However, it now seems that it would be wrong for those of us who know the truth to remain silent. I served with him and supervised him (as best as it was possible to supervise a person who refused to submit to lawful authority) and I know about his daily dishonesty and ‘spin’ of the truth.”

After AU ran an item about Holcomb’s comments on its blog “The Wall of Separation,” Klingenschmitt responded to his former boss, listing 12 points of disagreement. Klingenschmitt wrote in part, “Of all these ‘new’ allegations about my misconduct, surprise, none were ever documented against me. My performance in preaching, counseling, ceremonial duties, volunteering, and Casualty Assistance was exemplary, as stated in my [fitness reports]. You only downgraded my ‘off-duty’ performance, because you didn’t like my web-site and complaints to Congress exposing others’ punishment of my faith.”

Holcomb later replied to that post, writing, “[B]e assured that since I know the truth about your failed ministry as a Navy Chaplain and I know the truth about your dismissal from active duty, I will speak up and counter any falsehoods and attempts to mislead the public. It was never about praying ‘in Jesus’ name’ and it was never about any sermon that you preached. Your demise was caused by a stub­born pride (hubris) and culminated in pro­secution for disobedience of a lawful order.”

In addition, another Navy chaplain, Steve Dundas, joined the impassioned discussion.

The entire exchange can be read online on AU’s Web site, www.au.org. (Click on “The Wall of  Separation” blog and search the blog only for “chaplain.”)