Chaplain Montanari’s record of military service exemplifies integrity, service before self, and excellence. His exemplary accomplishments were recognized through several awards and distinctions, including being nominated Headquarters Airman of the Year in 2014.
Ordained, and endorsed as a military chaplain, by the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, Montanari began service as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. He was also appointed as an Air Guard Technician full time and in 2014, he began concurrently serving as a chaplain in the Civil Air Patrol.
Chaplain Montanari further distinguished himself by his desire to serve the Jewish community at March Air Reserve Base. This outreach led him to provide the first ever Messianic Jewish Seder presentation in support of the Jewish High Holy Day of Passover. He also devoted his time to helping Jewish men and women at the base with their kosher dietary requests and other requests for religious accommodations – a largely unmet need at the time.
At the heart of religious liberty is the right to follow the faith of our choice. Air Force officials cannot force someone to follow any particular faith. But, that is a right called into question in the case of Chaplain Montanari.
In 2015, Chaplain Montanari was assigned to a position with the California Air National Guard in the Office of the Inspector General at March Air Reserve Base, California. During the time he was assigned to work in the Office of the Inspector General, his religious beliefs began to change.
After a new Wing Vice Commander assumed command of the unit, Chaplain Montanari began to face religious discrimination. Montanari’s new commanding officer ordered him back into the chaplaincy, even after Montanari informed him that his religious beliefs had changed. Because of the change, he explained that he could no longer work as a chaplain endorsed by the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.
So, Chaplain Montanari asked to continue to serve in his Inspector General position or to transfer to a non-chaplain position. His commanding officer refused and re-iterated his directive that Chaplain Montanari serve as a International Church of the Foursquare Gospel chaplain, despite Chaplain Montanari’s desire to pursue Judaism.
For over three months in the chaplain’s office, Chaplain Montanari’s superiors subjected him to increased harassment and discrimination because of his decision to pursue Judaism. He was segregated from the other Chaplains, they did not notify him of chaplain meetings, and no one talked to him or gave him assignments. A fellow Chaplain stated that he could no longer work with Chaplain Montanari because of his conversion to Judaism. He made statements such as, “I can’t work with Jeff. I can’t be involved in the same things he’s involved in. He’s not the same person.”
Chaplain Montanari wanted to continue in the Air Force, but the discrimination became too much. So, he resigned his commission.
Two years later, after he completed his conversion to Orthodox Judaism, he attempted to re-enlist as an Jewish chaplain to help serve the needs of Jewish servicemen and women and to help fill the Air Force’s pressing need for Jewish Chaplains. However, Air Force officials, without a lawful reason, rejected his application, despite several openings for Jewish Chaplains for which was otherwise qualified.
On behalf of Captain Montanari, First Liberty sent a letter to Air Force officials detailing the unlawful discrimination and asking for immediate action to resolve the situation.
“Captain Montanari just wants to continue serving his country in accordance with his religious beliefs,” Berry said. He continued, “We’re confident the Air Force can easily solve this problem and First Liberty stands ready to assist in the process.”
READ FULL LETTER HERE
Following weeks of discrimination, Air Force officials cite no lawful reason for
denying position as an Orthodox Jewish Chaplain
WASHINGTON, DC—First Liberty Institute has sent a letter to U.S. Air Force officials demanding that they immediately reinstate First Liberty client, Air Force Chaplain Jeff Montanari. First Liberty attorneys argue Air Force officials discriminated against Montanari when they rejected his application to be a Jewish chaplain following his conversion to Orthodox Judaism. He had previously served as a chaplain endorsed by the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.
“At the heart of religious liberty is the right to follow the faith of one’s choice,” said Stephanie Taub, Senior Counsel at First Liberty. “These Air Force officials have no legitimate or lawful reason to prevent Chaplain Montanari from continuing to serve his country as a chaplain, as he did with distinction for several years.”
While serving as a chaplain endorsed by the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, Montanari received many awards and accolades including nomination as Headquarters Airman of the Year. After serving as a Foursquare chaplain where he focused on ministry to the Jewish community, Chaplain Montanari requested a non-chaplaincy position as he explored Orthodox Judaism. Despite explaining that he was in the process of changing his religious affiliation, Montanari’s then-commanding officer ordered him back into the chaplaincy under the endorsement of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. Chaplain Montanari faced severe hostility from his superiors during this time period, including excluding him from chaplain activities, effectively driving him out of the Air Force.
After completing two years of studies required to convert to Orthodox Judaism, Chaplain Montanari recently re-applied as an Orthodox Jewish chaplain to help serve the spiritual needs of Air Force personnel. Despite a pressing need for Jewish chaplains, the Air Force denied his application with no explanation.
To read the demand letter, click here.
To download a copy of this press release, click here.
About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.
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