By Tony Perkins
As an Iraq war veteran, Congressman Doug Collins (R-Ga.) knows better than anyone how comforting faith can be on the battlefield. So when an Army leader goes out of his way to punish a chaplain for doing his job, Rep. Collins is understandably upset.
Like FRC, he couldn’t believe what happened in his District’s own backyard at Fort Benning. To the surprise of Chaplain Joe Lawhorn, he was summoned to his commander’s office on Thanksgiving Day, where Col. David Fivecoat reprimanded him over a suicide prevention training Lawhorn had led in which he dared to include faith as a resource for depression.
Although religion was only part of a broader message on combatting suicide, the Chaplain was issued a Letter of Concern for acting in accordance with the Defense Department’s own guidance, which says that “unless it could have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline, the Military Departments will accommodate individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs.”
This week, Rep. Collins, who also serves as a chaplain in the Air Force reserve, expressed his own frustration with the Army’s intolerance in a letter to Brigadier General John King. “My own service as a military chaplain taught me the importance of offering honest counsel and serving as a resource to those in need. I believe that military chaplains continue to play an important role as religious and spiritual leaders to our men and women in uniform and their families… Chaplain Lawhorn demonstrated this commitment when he shared, during the course of suicide prevention training, his own struggle with depression and how his faith helped guide him through a difficult time.” Collins goes on to ask that the complaint be withdrawn from the Chaplain’s file, a goal the Liberty Institute will pursue in court if Army leadership refuses.
Meanwhile, FRC and members of the Military Religious Freedom Coalition sent a letter of our own to the Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, who, ironically, had clarified the rules on religious expression in the branch as recently as last fall. “The Army has a significant problem with depression and suicide. It seems logical that all potential solutions for resolving this devastating problem should be explored, including the spiritual dimensions of the issue.” Col. Fivecoat’s actions, if not corrected by the rescission of the Letter of Concern, will most likely deprive men and women dealing with depression and the stress of military life, the help they need. For more on the controversy, don’t miss Rep. Doug Collins’s interview on “Washington Watch” yesterday.
Tony Perkins is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council. He is a former member of the Louisiana legislature where he served for eight years, and he is recognized as a legislative pioneer for authoring measures like the nation’s first Covenant Marriage law.
(Via FRC’s Washington Update. Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.)
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