Military Times

Military Times team forgets to ask a crucial question about that Navy SEAL chaplain

Military Times team forgets to ask a crucial question about that Navy SEAL chaplain

Time to take a quick dip into my folder of GetReligion guilt, where some important stories have been calling for my attention. In particular, I wanted to note that debates about military chaplains, always a controversial church-state subject, have flared up once again in the news.

At the center of the debate this time around is Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder, a chaplain who has in the past handled the rather difficult challenge of keeping up with Navy SEAL units. Now, a Military Times article notes that he may be tossed out of the Navy after 19 years for "allegedly scolding sailors for homosexuality and premarital sex." Readers are told:

Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder was given a "detachment for cause" letter on Feb. 17 after his commanders concluded that he is "intolerant" and "unable to function in the diverse and pluralistic environment" of his current assignment at the Navy Nuclear Power Training Command in South Carolina.
Modder denies any wrongdoing and is fighting the dismissal with attorneys from the Liberty Institute, which advocates for religious expression in the military and in public institutions. Modder has served more than 19 years and could lose his retirement benefits if the Navy convenes a board of inquiry and officially separate him before he completes 20 years of service.

As often happens in these stories, the crucial question of what actually happened in these encounters between the chaplain and the soldiers making complaints is hard to discern, since the details all come from the accusers. Also, military chaplains treat the details of these one-on-one encounters as completely confidential (even chaplains who are not in traditions that include Confession).

Thus, the Gannett newsroom notes that the Navy's letter of complaint included offenses such as:

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The master sergeant, Obama, Chick-fil-A and missing details about religion

The master sergeant, Obama, Chick-fil-A and missing details about religion

First things first: Yes, I know that people who volunteer to join the military need to realize that they are surrendering some of their First Amendment rights.

Nevertheless, there are some interesting issues linked to politics and, yes, religion in the recent Military Times article about the retired master sergeant who has filed a lawsuit claiming that toward the end of his 15-year service in the U.S. Army Band he was "systematically persecuted by a politically correct cabal."

The key is that Nathan Sommers claims that the leaders who controlled his career -- leading to a sub-par job evaluation and a shove out the exit door -- consistently "tried to censor his speech and mock his religious beliefs.”

So, what are the crucial details that a journalist would need to include in this piece in order to cover this man's claims in an accurate and fair manner?

At the very least, we need to know some specific details about his political beliefs and speech. But the most controversial angle here is the religion hook. That is essential. We need the details.

GetReligion readers will not be shocked to learn that the Military Times team does a good job with the political material. Religion? Not so much.

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