For the past few years, Americans United has been sparring on and off with a former Navy chaplain named Gordon James Klingenschmitt.
Klingenschmitt first came to our attention when he insisted that he had a right to pray in Jesus’ name at official events, even though his superiors had urged him to use more inclusive invocations.
In the spring of 2006, Klingenschmitt appeared at a right-wing rally in Washington, D.C. He was wearing his uniform at the time. Had he attended the event in civilian garb, there would have been no problem, but Klingenschmitt’s use of his uniform was a clear violation of military regulations.
Klingenschmitt’s appearance at the rally was the final straw for Navy officials. He had been causing trouble for a long time and was not considered an effective chaplain. A 2004 poll of service personnel on the USS Anzio, where Klingenschmitt then served, reaped numerous negative comments, among them “worst CHAP I have seen in 17 years,” “would never seek counsel from CHAPS,” and “he is one of the worst CHAPs I have seen.”
Navy officials decided to ease Klingenschmitt out of the service. After the Evangelical Episcopal Church pulled its endorsement of Klingenschmitt, Navy officials decertified him as a chaplain, and he was separated from the U.S. Navy.
Unhappy about this, Klingenschmitt filed a number of administrative challenges and lawsuits, but they have not been successful. Last week, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims rejected his most recent suit.
Judge Elaine D. Kaplan noted that Navy officials outlined in detail the reasons why they sent Klingenschmitt packing.
“Based on these recommendations and the entire record, the Assistant Secretary (acting pursuant to a delegation of authority from the Secretary) determined that Dr. Klingenschmitt was ‘professionally unsuited for further service as a naval officer and chaplain,’” wrote Kaplan in the ruling for Klingenschmitt v.United States of America.
Kaplan noted that Navy officials criticized Klingenschmitt’s “performance and disciplinary record (including his fitness reports and court-martial conviction) as well as the lack of support for him in his chain of command.” The judged cited a 2006 fitness report that graded Klingenschmitt “below average in the area of military bearing/character.” The same report found that his “recent professional performance has been unsatisfactory.”
The assistant secretary of the Navy, Kaplan pointed out, “also relied on Dr. Klingenschmitt’s court-martial conviction for violating the lawful order of a superior commissioned officer in connection with the March 2006 media event at Lafayette Park. Finally, the Assistant Secretary also relied upon the fact that ‘the Chief of Chaplains, your community leader, recommended denial of recertification and processing you for administrative separation.’ He concluded that Dr. Klingenschmitt ‘d[id] not possess the character, leadership, or professional traits needed to successfully serve as a naval officer.’”
Kaplan also rejected Klingenschmitt’s claim that his religious-freedom rights were violated. She noted that he had been ordered not to wear his uniform at a political event and added, “The Order did not limit Dr. Klingenschmitt’s right to engage in any religious practices (including presenting an opening prayer at the event or invoking the name of Jesus in his prayer). It simply prohibited Dr. Klingenschmitt from engaging in this activity while wearing his uniform at what was clearly a political event and not, as Dr. Klingenschmitt seems to suggest, a bona fide religious service.”
In 2009, Americans United wrote to Navy officials and pointed out that Klingenschmitt had started a website titled “Pray In Jesus’ Name” that included photos of him in a Naval uniform and that referred to him as a chaplain. The clear implication was that Klingenschmitt was still serving in the Navy. Klingenschmitt’s response to this was to announce that he was praying for the death of Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn.
Last month, Klingenschmitt won election to the Colorado House of Representatives – despite his belief that President Barack Obama is possessed by demons and that the Affordable Care Act causes cancer. Remarkably, the race wasn’t even close with Klingenschmitt taking 70 percent of the vote for a seat representing El Paso County.
Klingenschmitt may be enjoying some political success right now, but his efforts to clean up the mess he left in the Navy aren’t going well for him. Klingenschmitt will undoubtedly stir things up in Colorado, but at least the men and women serving in uniform will no longer by subjected to his unprofessionalism and grandstanding.