Navy Bans Chaplain From Ministering to Family of Dead Sailor

Navy Chaplain Wes Modder prays over soldiers.
Navy Chaplain Wes Modder prays over soldiers. (Courtesy/Liberty Institute)

It really takes a special kind of lowlife to stop a chaplain from ministering to the family and colleagues of a dead sailor.

But that's exactly what happened last week at Naval Nuclear Power Training Command in Goose Creek, South Carolina, according to attorneys representing Chaplain Wes Modder.

"For this Navy to bar a chaplain from comforting and ministering to sailors and families is a reprehensible violation of religious freedom and common human decency," said Kelly Shackelford, the president of Liberty Institute, a law firm that specializes in religious liberty cases.

Some quick background before I explain what happened: 

Chaplain Modder is facing the end of a stellar, 19-year-career in the Navy because he expressed his faith-based views on marriage and human sexuality during private counseling sessions with sailors. 

Last December, a gay officer took offense at Christian chaplain's take on homosexuality. Modder, who is endorsed by the Assemblies of God, was accused of discrimination and failing to show tolerance and respect, among other things.

Just a few months earlier, Modder's commander had called him the "best of the best" and a "consummate professional leader." But now he's on the verge of being kicked out of the military.

Modder was relieved of his duties and temporarily reassigned pending the outcome of an investigation. The Navy has since denied the chaplain's request to be reinstated for religious accommodation.

So that brings us to an incident that occurred last week, when a sailor in Modder's previous unit unexpectedly died.

Liberty Institute attorney Michael Berry tells me Modder was about to reach out to the sailor's grieving family when he was stopped by a member of the command. 

He was slapped with a "no contact" order—the Navy's version of a restraining order—banning him from providing counsel or ministering to any members of his unit.

"This Navy official is using the 'no contact' order as a weapon to punish and humiliate a decorated military chaplain," Berry said. "To deny Chaplain Modder of the ability to minister to a grieving family and other sailors is deplorable."

The Navy went so far as to banish Modder from the base on the day of the sailor's memorial service. The chaplain said that was adding "insult to injury."

"One of the most important things chaplains do is to provide comfort and care after a tragic death," Modder said. "I am heartbroken for the family, and yet the Navy won't allow me to do my job of helping them grieve and mourn."

It's beyond me why the Navy would treat a Marine and highly decorated chaplain with such derision. This is a man who was deployed multiple times during the War on Terror. This is a man who once led chaplains who ministered to Navy SEALs.

Tens of thousands of Americans have petitioned the Pentagon to reinstate Modder, and a number of high-profile political and religious figures—including Mike Huckabee, Sen. Ted Cruz, Franklin Graham and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins—have offered their support.

I reached out to the Chief of Chaplains' office for comment, but they did not return my call. I can only hope the reason is because they are just as speechless as I am.

It's become clear to me that Navy leadership cannot be trusted to protect religious liberty within the ranks. It's time for our elected officials to intervene, before Chaplain Modder's commander brings more embarrassment and shame to the Armed Forces. 

Todd Starnes is host of "Fox News & Commentary," heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is God Less America.

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