35 Members of Congress Rally in Support of Chaplain Wes Modder

April 2, 2015

First Liberty Institute continues its defense of Chaplain Modder, responds on behalf of client banned from ministering to sailors in his unit

Joining increasing public support—and the collective outcry for answers—on behalf of First Liberty Institute client, Chaplain Wes Modder, this week are 35 Members of Congress who sent a letter to Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, and Rear Admiral Margaret Kibben, U.S. Navy, Chief of Chaplains.

Including J. Randy Forbes (VA-04), Vicky Hartzler (MO-04), Doug Lamborn (CO-05), and John Fleming (LA-04), these 35 Members are holding the U.S. Navy’s feet to the fire regarding commanding officer Captain Jon R. Fahs’ unlawful punishment of Chaplain Modder after a very small number of sailors disagreed with the biblical views Chaplain Modder expressed in response to their questions during private counseling sessions.

“We are grateful that members of Congress would remind Captain Fahs of his constitutional obligation to provide for religious freedom,” said Mike Berry, First Liberty Institute Senior Counsel and Director of Military Affairs. “Chaplains exist to provide the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious free exercise. It’s clear these elected officials appreciate the vital role of our chaplains in preserving religious liberty.”

Captain Fahs launched a three-prong attack against Chaplain Modder, requesting the highly-decorated chaplain be removed from the promotion list, “detached for cause” (the military equivalent of being fired), and brought before an official Board of Inquiry, where he could be involuntarily forced out of the Navy.

In response, First Liberty Institute demanded that the Navy rescind all three threats and also requested religious accommodation on Chaplain Modder’s behalf. Captain Fahs denied the request for religious accommodation and issued a “no contact” order—the military version of a restraining order which forbids Chaplain Modder from counseling or ministering to members of his unit.


In light of Navy’s treatment of Chaplain Modder—which violates military regulations, federal law, and the Constitution—the Members of Congress strongly urged Secretary Mabus and Admiral Kibben to protect the religious liberty rights of not only Chaplain Modder, but all of the military’s chaplains who have put their lives on the line to minister to the spiritual needs of service members.

In their letter, they make these crucial points:

  • Congress passed conscience protections for service members in the National Defense Authorization Act.
    Two Department of Defense (DoD) instructions clarify that expressions of belief are protected and that chaplains cannot be required to perform any rite, ritual, or ceremony that is contrary to his or her conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs. Also, no service member may discriminate or take adverse personnel action on the basis of these actions by a chaplain.
  • Navy policy and training documents make it clear that a chaplain’s role is to provide religious ministry.
    The tenets of a chaplain’s faith inform their spiritual care of service members. If there is a situation which calls for the chaplain to act contrary to his or her individual faith, then the chaplain may connect the sailor with someone else who can fulfill the sailor’s need.
  • Navy policy also protects a chaplain’s ability to preach and teach—even when sailors may disagree with the chaplain’s remarks.
    Unless a chaplain’s speech is otherwise prohibited, such as publicly maligning senior leaders, their sermons and/or teachings cannot be restricted, even with regard to socially controversial topics.
  • Chaplain Modder’s beliefs are endorsed by the General Counsel of the Assemblies of God, which affirms the orthodox theological belief that sexual intimacy is designed for the context of marriage between one man and one woman.
    Even if Chaplain Modder’s religious beliefs conflict with Navy policy, he is bound to align his views with that of his endorsing denomination. The Assemblies of God denomination affirms the biblical definition of marriage—and the Bible’s instruction on marital and extra-marital sex. Chaplain Modder supports and expresses these beliefs.


The coalition of Congress members have requested: Information about the accusations against Chaplain Modder and that investigations will be conducted according to laws that protect chaplains’ rights, confirmation that the Navy is pursuing enforcement of policies and protections already in place for service members and chaplains, and assurance that conscience protections passed by Congress are being implemented.

Another key public official who has voiced concern this week is Representative Doug Collins (R-GA), who previously supported First Liberty Institute client, Chaplain (Captain) Joseph “Joe” Lawhorn, whose religious liberty rights were violated by the U.S. Army. Because of his role as a chaplain in the Air Force Reserve, Rep. Collins understands the value of military religious freedom and strongly urged Navy Secretary Mabus, in a separate letter, that he has “questions about the important issue of officers respecting the sacred trust of confidentiality that exists between chaplains and service members.”Rep. Collins went on to ask if the Navy investigated how Chaplain Modder’s private, confidential communications were obtained, and whether any regulations that protect confidentiality were violated.

Additionally, media coverage has continued to keep the story alive, including Fox News contributor Todd Starnes’ “Fox Nation’s The Dispatch” video report: “Lawmakers defend chaplain accused of being anti-gay.”(Starnes previously wrote about the matter in three columns: “Navy bans chaplain from ministering to family of dead sailor”, ”Former SEALs chaplain could be kicked out of Navy for Christian beliefs” and “More than 40,000 rally for Navy chaplain accused of being anti-gay.”)


An easy, yet effective way people can help support Chaplain Modder—and speak out against threats against him by the U.S. Navy—is by signing First Liberty Institute’s “Stop the Unlawful Action Against Chaplain Wes Modder, An American Hero!” Petition.

With more than 10,000 signatures collected to date, the petition sends a clear, powerful message to the Secretary of the Navy that Americans are alarmed and outraged,and they demand that Chaplain Modder be allowed to continue his invaluable work of meeting the spiritual needs of service members in his care.

Please click here if you would like to give a donation to help defend and restore religious freedom.

Other stories:

FREE SPEECH COMES FIRST: First Liberty Institute Files Friend of Court Brief in U.S. Supreme Court Marriage Case (Obergefell v. Hodges)


Three Reasons to Stand for RFRA

About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit

Social Facebook Social Instagram Twitter X Icon | First Liberty Institute Social Youtube Social Linkedin

Terms of UsePrivacy PolicyState DisclosuresSitemap • © 2024 Liberty Institute® is a trademark of First Liberty Institute