Religious liberty groups are left outraged after an Army chaplain was punished for discussing his Christian faith and quoting from the Bible during a suicide prevention training session with the 5th Ranger Training Battalion.
Todd Starnes of Fox News reports that on Nov. 20, Chaplain Joseph Lawhorn was issued a Letter of Concern that accused him of advocating for Christianity and "using Christian scripture and solutions" during a training session held at the University of North Georgia, causing a disgruntled participant to file a complaint against him.
"You provided a two-sided handout that listed Army resources on one side and a biblical approach to handling depression on the other side," Col. David Fivecoat, the commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade at Ft. Benning, Georgia, wrote in the letter to the chaplain. "This made it impossible for those in attendance to receive the resource information without also receiving the biblical information."
The Christian chaplain was also ordered to appear in the colonel's office on Thanksgiving, where he was warned to be "careful to avoid any perception you are advocating one system of beliefs over another."
According to Ron Crews, the endorsing agent for military chaplains for Grace Churches International, Lawhorn had courageously shared his struggles with depression and the Biblical methods he used to deal with the issue during the training session. After the session, the chaplain had handed out both religious and non-religious resources to participants.
"His story involves his faith journey," Crews said. "He was simply being a great Army chaplain - in ministering to his troops and providing first hand how he has dealt with depression in the past. That's what chaplains do. They bare their souls for their soldiers in order to help them with crises they may be going through."
"The chaplain did nothing wrong," he added. "At no time did he say his was the only or even the preferred way of dealing with depression. And at no time did he deny the validity of any other method."
Mike Berry, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel and Director of Military Affairs, has urged the Army to rescind the Letter of Concern, calling it a violation of the chaplain's constitutional rights.
"It is outrageous that an Army chaplain would have his career threatened because he cared so much about his soldiers that he opened up to them about his personal struggles, and what worked for him," said Berry, according to PRNewswire.
"That is the very definition of looking out for your soldiers. And to be punished for it on Thanksgiving Day adds insult to injury. At a time when military suicides are increasing, one would assume the last thing the Army should do is punish a soldier who is trying to prevent them."
Congressman Doug Collins, a Republican lawmaker from Georgia has also written a letter to Col. Fivecoat regarding the issue.
"I find it counterintuitive to have someone lead a suicide prevention course but prohibit them from providing their personal testimony," Collins wrote.
He cited the Army's Equal Opportunity policy and how it was set up to protect the personal beliefs of military personnel.
"I fear Chaplain Lawhorn's freedom of expression was improperly singled out," he wrote.