By Jeff Mateer and Christopher Corbett
The day after Kim Davis* went to jail, U.S. Navy Chaplain Wes Modder was set free from religious discrimination. And together, both examples of religious hostility offer an instructive lesson for people of faith whose religious freedom is under growing attack.
Millions of Americans know about Kim Davis—indeed, many have seen her mug shot in the news. She is the county clerk in Kentucky who went to jail this month for refusing to allow her office to issue same-sex marriage licenses because her conscience, as a Christian, would not let her commit what she considered to be a flagrant violation of her civic oath, which ended with the words, “So help me, God.”
TWO CHRISTIANS, SAME STORM
Overshadowed by the Davis frenzy was the stunning legal victory of another victim of persecution, U.S. Navy Chaplain Wes Modder. While not violating any law or regulation, Chaplain Modder certainly steered against the same hurricane-force winds of political correctness that blasted Mrs. Davis.
The storm started when a number of sailors asked for his opinion on trip-wire topics such as sexual conduct and gay marriage. Modder politely, firmly, and courageously responded from the Bible.
Not liking Modder’s answers, the disgruntled young counselees complained to Modder’s commander, Captain John Fahs, at the prestigious Naval Nuclear Power Training Command in South Carolina. And Fahs himself went nuclear—on Chaplain Modder.
Fahs called Modder “unfit” and his counseling “a recipe for tragedy.” He humiliatingly relieved Modder of most of his duties, and recommended he be “detached for cause” and hauled before a board of inquiry to be potentially booted from the Navy.
Quickly, the controversy erupted into a very big deal.
NOT GOING AWAY QUIETLY
Instead of groveling or going quietly away, Modder sought expert legal counsel. Members of Congress weighed in. Media coverage intensified.
More important, millions of veterans, rank-and-file active military, commanders, the Pentagon, and the chaplains corps all monitored the legal confrontation to see what would happen.
Keep in mind, Wes Modder is not just any chaplain. He is one of the most highly decorated chaplains in the entire military. He served Special Forces such as the Navy SEALS. He served in 14 overseas deployments, risking his life on the front lines. His accolades included commanders calling him “essential,” a “national asset,” and the “best of the best.”
So the attack on Modder was a clear test. If someone like Wes Modder could be toppled by the sexual revolution, what person of faith would be safe? And the apostles of that revolution threatened not just to slap his wrist—but to destroy him. At 19 years, his retirement had not vested. He has a wife and young children. Being kicked out of the Navy under the circumstances he faced would be utterly devastating and a fiery warning to all who tried to assert that religious liberty still existed when pitted against the newly minted currency of “sexual liberty.”
Chaplain Modder and his attorneys dug in for a long, intense legal battle.
WHO WINS? WHO LOSES?
But on Friday, September 4—while Kim Davis sat in a Kentucky jail—the Navy informed Wes Modder that all charges against him had been dropped. He is totally reinstated, totally exonerated, and may continue to serve as a Navy chaplain, freely counseling and preaching according to his evangelical Christian beliefs for as long as he wants.
“This is not just victory,” said one of his delighted attorneys. “This is total victory.”
But is it? Did Wes Modder “win,” while Kim Davis “lost”?
We don’t believe the verdict is completely in. It depends on the response of people of traditional conservative faith—the people whose beliefs make them the targets of the new era of persecution.
If Wes Modder’s victory does not embolden thousands of other chaplains, and millions of religious military members, to live out their faith and insist on their rights, as military and federal law still allow,then the Modder victory will be pyrrhic. If it does not help save religious liberty for many, it will fall sadly short.
On the other hand, if Kim Davis’ jailing emboldens millions of people of faith to stand up for religious liberty, and if she inspires them not to go silent, not to cower, not to choose comfort over faith, then Davis’ loss offreedom can be a win for freedom.
IN OUR HANDS
Has the day of religious persecution in America arrived? Mrs. Davis sat in jail for days. Christian bakers, florists, and wedding vendors are being hit with state-sponsored financial ruin. Christian employees are losing their jobs because of their religious beliefs.
Yet victories are also occurring. Chaplain Modder has been reinstated, with broad implications. In Iowa, newspaper editor Bob Eschlimanwas fired but then recently vindicated. If people of faith stand and boldly assert their religious freedom rights, there can and will be victories. It’s in our hands.
Jeff Mateer is General Counsel, and Christopher Corbett is Vice President for Strategic Communications, for Liberty Institute, a non-profit law firm dedicated exclusively to defending religious liberty in America. Liberty Institute represented Chaplain Wes Modder.
*Kim Davis was not a client of Liberty Institute. Chaplain Modder is a client of Liberty Institute.
About Liberty Institute
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 www.LibertyInstitute.org.