Over the past few years, Americans United has sparred with Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a former Navy chaplain with a penchant for Religious Right grandstanding.
Klingenschmitt, then still in the service, ran into problems two years ago when he defied orders to use nonsectarian prayers at military events where people from many different faith perspectives would be present. He later sealed his fate by speaking at a Religious Right rally wearing his uniform – a violation of military regulations.
Navy officials, deciding they had no use for a chaplain would not obey orders, informed Klingenschmitt that his services were no longer required. Refusing to resign, Klingenschmitt insisted on a court martial. He was duly court martialed and drummed out of the service.
We at Americans United were surprised, therefore, to receive copies of an e-mail Klingenschmitt issued recently promoting his new right-wing political Web site www.prayinjesusname.org. On the site, Klingenschmitt referred to himself as "Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt," and included a large picture of himself in a naval uniform. The e-mail and the Web site implored people to oppose President Barack Obama's nomination of U.S. District Judge David Hamilton to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
It's likely anyone unfamiliar with Klingenschmitt's history who received this e-mail or visited the site would assume he was an active-duty chaplain. In fact, some people who sent the message to AU thought just that.
Out in New Mexico, Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) knew something wasn't right. Federal law prohibits misuse of military uniforms. It appeared that Klingenschmitt was attempting to depict himself as an active-duty military chaplain to raise money and recruit people for his right-wing group – a violation of federal law.
Last week, AU and MRFF sent a letter to naval officials, asking them to investigate this matter and tell Klingenschmitt he must stop implying that he's still a naval chaplain.
Klingenschmitt recently responded to AU and MRFF. On his Web site, he accuses Weinstein of also violating military regulations – because MRFF's site contains an archival photo of Mikey as an Air Force cadet more than 30 years ago!
AU is also accused of violating the same law because in 2005, we ran a stock photo of the Air Force Academy on the cover of Church & State to illustrate a story I wrote about religious tensions there. (I know, it doesn't make any sense to me either.)
But here's the interesting news: Klingenschmitt's Web site now contains a disclaimer admitting that he is a former naval chaplain, that his views do not represent those of the Navy and that the photo of him in uniform is not current.
Perhaps Klingenschmitt believes AU and MRFF have a point after all. Otherwise, why all the changes?
Klingenschmitt can lash out at AU and MRFF and call our actions whatever he likes. I have my own term for what we've done: "Mission accomplished."