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Meet Chaplain Modder

Chaplain Wes Modder is a decorated military hero, and at the time of the controversy, had an exemplary nineteen-year service record. His past Marine and Navy SEAL commanders called him a “national asset,” with “charismatic leadership,” “sound judgment,” and the “appropriate confidence and diplomacy to speak to the entire chain of command,” making him the “best of the best” of Navy chaplains.  (View official letters of recommendations and fitness reports.)

During his service in the United States Marines, Modder served in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia. He earned a doctorate in Military Ministry and has served as a Navy chaplain for 15 years. As the Force Chaplain for Navy Special Warfare Command, Chaplain Modder was entrusted with the spiritual wellbeing of Navy SEALs; the Navy’s most elite warriors. Chaplain Modder deployed multiple times to support Navy SEALs during high-profile operations around the globe between June 2008-June 2010.

In 2014, at the personal request of a four-star admiral, Chaplain Modder was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command (NNPTC), where he faithfully provided support, counsel, and spiritual encouragement to his fellow sailors. In October 2014, his commander said he was the “consummate professional leader,” providing “sage counseling” and being “sought out for his expertise” on “the most sensitive issues encountered.” (View full report from Modder’s commander.)

Attacked for Religious Expression

At the NNPTC, as with all military commands, service members are encouraged to seek out the chaplain for individual counseling sessions, where they can ask personal questions, receive encouragement, and get spiritual guidance. Just weeks after Chaplain Modder received the highest possible rating and accolades from the NNPTC commander, a few sailors complained that they disagreed with the biblical views Chaplain Modder expressed during private counseling sessions, even though the views were in line with the teachings of his faith.

Despite laws, military regulations, and even court cases that protect chaplains when they discuss religious matters, the Navy responded by removing Chaplain Modder from his unit and isolating him at the base chapel, cutting him off from his sailors and forbidding him to minister to their spiritual needs. The Navy launched a three-pronged attack against Chaplain Modder, requesting that he be:

  1. Removed from the promotion list (where he was listed as “Early Promote,” the highest rating possible).
  2. “Detached for Cause,” which is the military equivalent of being terminated for cause, and removed from his unit.
  3. Brought before an official Board of Inquiry, where he could potentially be forced out of the Navy, resulting in the loss of his military pension and benefits.

The Navy demanded that Chaplain Modder respond to their “detachment for cause” by March 16 2015. Chaplain Modder’s response was simple: He was simply doing what he is trained and directed to do: offering spiritual guidance in accordance with his faith. His right to do so is legally protected. In fact, according to military policy, if he does not adhere to the tenets of his denomination, he could lose his ability to remain a chaplain.

Federal law and military regulations forbid the Navy from taking adverse action against a chaplain based on his faith, making the Navy’s actions against Modder unlawful. First Liberty Institute was quick to defend Chaplain Modder’s religious liberty and ensuring that he will be able to continue his mission of providing for the spiritual needs of all soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

Victory for Chaplain Modder

In a major national victory for religious freedom, chaplains, and other members of the U.S. military, the U.S. Navy rejected all threatened punishment against Chaplain Wes Modder in September of 2015 and restored him to full service.

“This is not only a great day for Chaplain Modder, but for every American who supports religious freedom in our military,” said Michael Berry, Senior Counsel and Director of Military Affairs for First Liberty Institute at the time of the victory.

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release: March 24, 2015

Contact: Gregg Wooding, gwooding@libertyinstitute.org

Cell: 214.558.9455, Office: 972.941.4453

NAVY OFFICIAL BANS CHAPLAIN FROM MINISTERING TO BEREAVED FAMILIES AND SAILORS

Liberty Institute Protests Navy’s “Restraining Order” Against Decorated Navy Chaplain, Barring Him from Ministering to Sailors


GOOSE CREEK, SC, March 24, 2015— Today, Liberty Institute announces that Chaplain Modder’s commanding officer, Captain Jon R. Fahs, issued a “no contact” order to Chaplain Wes Modder (the military version of a restraining order), forbidding him from counseling or ministering to members of his unit. The order comes on the heels of a tragic death in Modder’s unit, banning him from ministering to grieving sailors and the deceased sailor’s family members.

After a sailor in his unit unexpectedly passed away, Chaplain Modder immediately sprung into action to fulfill his usual chaplain duties of providing comfort and support to the deceased sailor’s grieving family. But just as Chaplain Modder was about to perform those duties, the Navy informed him of the “no contact” order, banning him from having any contact with any personnel from his unit, depriving him of the ability to comfort them during a time of grief and mourning. Captain Fahs also banished Chaplain Modder from the Naval base where Modder is stationed on the day of the memorial service for the fallen sailor. The order also comes just days after Captain Fahs denied Chaplain Modder’s request for a religious accommodation to provide pastoral counseling in accordance with his faith. (See Captain Fahs’ denial letter here.)

“This Navy official is using the ‘no contact’ order as a weapon to punish and humiliate a decorated military chaplain, ” said Mike Berry, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel and Director of Military Affairs. “I am stunned that he would deny Chaplain Modder the ability to minister to a grieving family and other sailors.”

Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford said, “Of the most critical times for chaplains, the death of a colleague is near the top of the list. For this Navy official to bar a chaplain from comforting and ministering to sailors and families is a reprehensible violation of religious freedom and common human decency.”

Case Background: Chaplain Wes Modder is a Navy chaplain and former Marine who previously served as the Force chaplain for Naval Special Warfare Command. He has deployed overseas multiple times during the War on Terror, including in support of Navy SEAL Teams. In October 2014, Chaplain Modder’s commander called him a “consummate professional leader,” “the best of the best,” and said he sets the “clear benchmark” for chaplain professionalism. Now, the Navy is threatening Chaplain Modder with career-ending punishment because, when asked, he expressed faith-based views on marriage and human sexuality in private counseling sessions. Liberty Institute is defending Chaplain Modder and asserts that censoring his religious expression is unconstitutional religious discrimination. The “no contact” order comes only days after the Navy officially denied Chaplain Modder’s request for religious accommodation, in violation of federal law and Department of Defense (DoD) regulations. (Read more about Modder’s case here.)

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About Liberty Institute

Liberty Institute is the largest nonprofit legal organization in the nation dedicated solely to defending religious liberty in America. Liberty Institute protects freedom of religious expression in our military, schools, churches, and throughout the public arena. For more information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.

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Press Releases

First Liberty Press Release – 03/09/2015

First Liberty Press Release – 03/12/2015