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Chaplain facing court-martial for wearing uniform at D.C. protest

Navy Chaplain (Lt.) Gordon Klingenschmitt speaks at a protest outside the White House in March. With him are the Rev. Rob Schenck, left, president of the National Clergy Council, and Rick Scarborough, president of Vision America. Klingenschmitt is facing a court-martial for wearing his uniform during the protest.

LEO SHANE III / S&S

By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 24, 2006

WASHINGTON — A Navy chaplain who has been a vocal critic of the service’s limits on public prayers is facing a court-martial for wearing his uniform during a protest outside the White House in March.

Lt. Gordon Klingenschmitt could face loss of pay, fines and a formal reprimand. The 37-year-old sailor has sparred with his commanding officers over the last few years over his appearances at religious protests and his use of Christian-specific language at public events, despite requests and orders for more secular prayers.

Klingenschmitt said officials informed him late last month that he would face a court-martial if he did not accept a letter of reprimand acknowledging he violated orders, a punishment he says would preclude him from future promotions.

“I refused that letter because I am innocent,” he said. “I think I will win this and prove that they’re really punishing me for appealing to the president.”

Navy officials emphasized the charges have nothing to do with Klingenschmitt’s religious views or protests, but instead with his decision to wear his uniform during the March 30 rally.

The event outside the White House was organized by groups protesting Defense Department chaplaincy rules requiring nonsectarian prayers at public events.

Klingenschmitt appeared alongside former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore — best known for his fight to preserve a Ten Commandments monument in that state’s Supreme Court building — and other religious leaders to ask for a presidential order protecting “a chaplain’s right to pray in Jesus’ name.”

The Navy chaplain says he received conflicting orders on whether he could wear his uniform at the nonmilitary event. He believes written guidelines given to him weeks before the March event outlined criteria that would allow him to wear his uniform at certain religious events. Those guidelines contradicted verbal orders from his superior officers given just days before the event.

But the charges outlined against him accuse him of misinterpreting those uniform regulations and “disobeying a lawful order from a superior commissioned officer.”

Klingenschmitt has accused his superiors of a host of religious and personnel violations, and he conducted an 18-day hunger strike outside the White House in January in part to protest what he perceived as naval officials’ attempts to force him out of the chaplaincy.

No date has been set for the charges to be heard.


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