CHAPLAIN UPDATE: U.S. Navy Official Denies Chaplain Wes Modder’s Request for Religious Accommodation

March 20, 2015

First Liberty Institute calls out Navy official’s unlawful punishment of client and will appeal on the highly-decorated chaplain’s behalf!


Chaplain Wes Modder prays over service members before they go into
harm’s way aboard the USS Bunker Hill off the coast of Somalia.
It is only because of a special trust with crew that chaplains are invited to do this.

In continued defiance of federal law, a U.S. Navy official denied First Liberty Institute client Chaplain Wes Modder’s request for religious accommodation this week. Although Chaplain Modder’s Marine and Navy SEAL commanders have called him “a national asset” and “the best of the best,” Navy officials are threatening Chaplain Modder with career-ending punishment because he expressed faith-based beliefs in private counseling sessions with sailors.

First Liberty Institute will now appeal on Chaplain Modder’s behalf.

“Navy officials are using outdated, obsolete policies to deny a chaplain his rights,” said Mike Berry, First Liberty Institute Senior Counsel and Director of Military Affairs. “Navy officials appear to be rebelling against the new Department of Defense (DoD) regulations and thumbing their nose at Congress and the Secretary of Defense. That is totally unacceptable.”


The old, outdated regulations on which a Navy official based his denial of Chaplain Modder’s rights were superseded by updated DoD policies in 2014. Also—and ironically for a branch of our nation’s military that likes to brag about protecting freedom (“To get to you, they’d have to get past us”)—the Navy official is not complying with a new law passed by Congress in 2014 that protects military chaplains’ religious freedom. Additionally, the Navy official is not complying with the Navy’s own regulations­­­­—including these sections:

In addition to DoD regulations, by requiring Chaplain Modder to compromise the standards of his endorsing denomination, the Assemblies of God, Navy officials are also violating the Constitution and federal law.


With a Doctorate in Military Ministry, Chaplain Modder is a respected and decorated chaplain with a spotless, exceptional record service. In fact, earlier in his chaplaincy career, the U.S. Navy asked Chaplain Modder to be a part of a Navy Chaplain Corps recruitment video!

After his stellar service, including as Force Chaplain for Naval Special Warfare Command, in 2014 Chaplain Modder was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command in Goose Creek, South Carolina, at the request of a 4-star Admiral. A very small number of military personnel in private counseling sessions asked Chaplain Modder for spiritual guidance regarding certain personal conduct.

Since Chaplain Modder is endorsed by the Assemblies of God—the respected Bible-believing denomination to which he belongs—he is required to provide spiritual guidance in line with their viewpoint, as he has consistently and faithfully done for 15 years.

But in this case, these few individuals at Chaplain Modder’s relatively new location did not agree with his traditional, biblical views regarding their inquiries. As Berry says, “They were looking for someone to simply tell them what they wanted to hear. And when they didn’t hear what they wanted to hear, they complained.” Then, with total disregard for military courtesy, Navy officials did not follow the usual procedure of getting Chaplain Modder’s side of the story, and they rushed to judgment against him.

U.S. Navy officials have removed this highly-decorated chaplain and military hero from his unit and isolated him at the base chapel. Chaplain Modder has been cut off from his sailors, and he is forbidden from ministering to their spiritual needs. And finally, to add insult to injury, a Navy official has now refused to grant him religious liberty. (Click here to WATCH Chaplain Modder and his wife Beth share about their painful and discriminatory experience.)


First Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford said, “We will not sit by while Navy officials completely disregard federal law on religious freedom. The stakes are far too high. The future religious liberty of every service member and chaplain in the U.S. military hangs in the balance.”

Political, military, and religious leaders have offered unwavering support for Chaplain Modder:

  • Senator Ted Cruz called Modder “the latest target in a series of assaults on religious liberty in the military.”
  • Lt. Gen. (RET) William G. “Jerry” Boykincalled the Navy’s actions “unacceptable.”
  • Rev. Franklin Graham, CEO of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, said, “[As] a highly decorated 19-year military veteran, Modder doesn’t deserve this—nor does anyone.”

Former presidential candidates Governor Mike Huckabee and Senator Rick Santorum, President of Family Research Council Tony Perkins, Congressman Doug Collins, and Modder’s denominational endorser, the Assemblies of God have also rallied to Chaplain Modder’s defense.

In addition, Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty—an organization of chaplain endorsers which are the faith groups that provide chaplains for the U.S. military and other agencies needing chaplains—has publicly voiced its support of Chaplain Modder. “The Navy expects chaplains to provide counsel according to the tenets of their faith,” said Chaplain (COL) Ron Crews, USA Retired, executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. “No disciplinary action, then, can cite his religious views or his verbalization of them as a cause for the action.”

The endorsers for Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty speak for more than 2,600 chaplains serving in the armed forces today.


“My hope and prayer is that truth will prevail,”said Chaplain Modder. “It has to be the outcome, because that’s who we are as America.”

First Liberty Institute is passionate about defending Chaplain Modder and standing up for the freedom of all members of the military. But we need your help to do this. Please join with us when you give your donation today, pray with us for victory in this matter, and sign the “Stop the Unlawful Action Against Chaplain Wes Modder, An American Hero!” Petition.

Chaplain Wes Modder—and all chaplains, military members and people of faith— greatly need Americans like you to stand with them and to protect religious liberty rights in our nation. Thank you!

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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

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