Welcome to the criminalization of
September 15, 2006
By Janet L. Folger
As I sat in the hearing room, I felt a cold
chill – like the chilling effect this
court-martial will have on our free speech.
For this analogy to be accurate, however, I
would need to be sitting in a freezer. At
issue in the court-martial of Lt. Gordon
James Klingenschmitt, chaplain for the
United States Navy, is a name and the
freedom to speak it. That name is Jesus.
And, according to
this week's ruling, the freedom to speak
it depends on the context.
Before I could go through the metal
detectors to get to the courtroom, a Navy
official had already taken Jesus' name in
vain. No trial for that. No penalty. No
problem. But use the name in reverence, in
honor or in prayer, and you'll find yourself
looking in the face of a court-martial.
Welcome to the criminalization of
This case is really about Navy Secretary
Donald C. Winter, who ordered that every
chaplain in the Navy worship his god
– the "government god" of "non-sectarian"
goodness who has no name and certainly no
son by whom someone might be offended. But
Chaplain Klingenschmitt told Navy Secretary
Nebuchadnezzar, uh, I mean Winter, that he
couldn't bow to his government god and had
to proclaim the God of the Bible – who has a
Son with an illegal name.
So Chaplain Klingenschmitt spoke the
Gospel aboard ship, prayed in that illegal
name and preached from that "offensive book"
– much to the detriment of his career. But
it's a good thing he did, particularly for a
sailor who heard the message of the Gospel
and dedicated his life to Christ – just
before being killed in a motorcycle
accident. A secular memorial was held, but
many sailors approached the chaplain and
asked that he hold a Christian memorial
service to honor the sailor's faith. So he
did. Attendance was voluntary. But the
chaplains "above" him didn't like the
content of his sermon. Mentioning Jesus in
the chapel (you know, that building with the
cross on top), they said, is just
"too exclusive." Just who was it that hung
on that cross depicted on the official Navy
chaplain uniform, again? Maybe they can tell
people it's really a lower case "t" –
standing for "tepid," "totalitarian" or
"triangle" until the new shapes can be
In fact, Klingenschmitt was punished in
writing for reading an "illegal verse," and
Naval Judge Anita Blair upheld the
reprimand. What was the illegal verse?
[WARNING! If you are a member of the United
States Navy, do NOT, I repeat, do NOT
read this verse out loud, or face court
He who believes in the Son has
everlasting life; and he who does not
believe the Son shall not see life, but
the wrath of God abides on him. – John
The judge ruled that the chaplain's
freedom wasn't really restricted since he
was free to preach a sermon on "other"
topics besides Jesus. Like, the measurements
of the ark, for instance. Just don't go
quoting Bible verses from the New Testament
of Jesus Christ and actually mention
The chaplain then went on a hunger strike
until the Navy said he could pray in uniform
again. They said "no speeches" or
"opinions," but he was allowed to wear his
uniform for "religious observances." That
brings us to the event in question – March
30, 2006, where the chaplain engaged in the
"religious observance" of prayer. He didn't
give a speech. Didn't voice his opinions. In
fact, he even turned down questions from
reporters because he was wearing his
uniform. Quite different from other Navy
officers who went on national television and
national radio espousing "personal,"
"partisan" and "political beliefs" while in
uniform without any prior permission. The
difference? Oh, they were blasting
Klingenschmitt, and the Navy agreed with the
content of their speech.
Then, Judge Lewis T. Booker, the judge
overseeing the court-martial, ruled that the
right to "public worship" doesn't include
"worshiping in public." Judge Booker said
essentially that "public worship" is allowed
for one hour on Sunday, and you
better use it, because that's the only free
exercise of religion you have left, sailor.
And now, five years after we were
attacked, our troops are fighting overseas
for the freedom of those who pray in the
name of Allah at the same time a U.S.
chaplain has been court-martialed for
praying in the name of Jesus on American
soil. Does anyone besides me see something
wrong with this? On Monday, Sept. 11, 2006,
we gathered to sing "God Bless America," but
how likely do you think God will continue to
bless us if we are forbidden from using His
And where is our beloved commander in
chief? The man I worked to elect, who
personally told me that the "most important
thing" I could do for him was to pray?
Cannot our military have that same "most
important" right? His number, by the way, is
As I was leaving the airport in Norfolk,
I saw an advertisement that read: "America
will always be the home of the free because
it is the land of the brave." When I read
it, I cried … because America is no longer
the land of the free. Thankfully, there are
still are brave Americans like Chaplain
Klingenschmitt. If you are among the brave
left in the land of the free, I urge you
with everything in me to use your freedom
while you still can.
Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is reportedly
"still undecided" as to whether the freedom
of religion should apply to chaplains. He
sits on the conference committee for the
Defense appropriations bill, H.R. 5122, and
is a critical vote on Section 590 – the
amendment that will let the chaplains of all
branches of our military pray according to
the dictates of their conscience. The
toll-free number to reach him is:
1-888-355-3588. Use it to call Sens. John
Warner and Carl Levin while you're at it;
they're key votes on the committee, as well.
The message? Simply: "Let the chaplains
pray" – something our Founding Fathers
thought was so very important that one of
their first acts of the first Congress
(after ratifying the First Amendment) was to
establish chaplains to do just that.
Of course, you have "the right to remain
silent," but if you use that right much
longer, those are the words you'll hear
before you see the inside of a prison cell.
Because if they criminalize Chaplain
Klingenschmitt today, tomorrow it's you.
Janet L. Folger is president of
and author of "The Criminalization of