By Tony Perkins
His name is David Fivecoat, but the Army Colonel may as well be a turncoat to religious liberty. The Commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade at Fort Benning is quickly becoming the face of the military censorship problem, as a shocking new story breaks about his treatment of a Georgia base chaplain.
At a training session on suicide prevention, Chaplain Joseph Lawhorn told soldiers about his own struggles with depression and how faith helped him through. At one point, he even offered the attendees a two-sided handout that included resources for struggling service members — some religious, some not. Apparently, that was enough to land the Chaplain in his Commander’s office on Thanksgiving Day, where he was personally handed a “Letter of Concern” accusing him of unlawfully proselyting.
Lawhorn was speechless. In the letter, Col. Fivecoat claims it was unacceptable for the Chaplain to list “Army resources on one side and a biblical approach to handling depression on the other side.” “This made it impossible,” he argued, “for those in attendance to receive the information without also receiving the biblical information.”
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The controversy was so outrageous that it caught Rep. Doug Collins’s (R-Ga.) attention. “I find it counterintuitive to have someone lead a suicide prevention course but prohibit them from providing their personal testimony,” the Congressman, who is also a reserve military chaplain and represents the district that includes Fort Benning, wrote.
At a time when the military is dealing with a crisis of confidence, morale, sexual assault, and suicide, deemphasizing faith — and the peace and comfort it offers — is not only ridiculous, but dangerous. More of our brave men and women in the military today are committing suicide than dying in combat. That means our greatest enemy is no longer war but anger and depression. And what better way to fight that enemy than encouraging spiritual and emotional wellness?
Unfortunately, a growing number of military officials under the Obama administration no longer see it that way and mistake religious expression as the threat — not a solution. For now, Chaplain Lawhorn has no choice but to fight the letter, hiring our good friends at Liberty Institute to bring the constitutional clarity this commander sorely needs. “Not only is it lawful for a chaplain to talk about matters of faith and spirituality and religion in a suicide prevention training class — but the Army policy encourages discussion of matters of faith and spirituality,” Michael Berry explained. “The fact that one person in the class was offended changes nothing.”
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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