FIGHT FOR FAITH INTENSIFIES: First Liberty Institute Requests Immediate Remedy for Chaplain Wes Modder

March 12, 2015

First Liberty Institute demands Navy restore highly decorated chaplain as public outcry grows

Click here to watch Chaplain Wes Modder and his wife
Beth share about their painful and discriminatory experience


The unthinkable has happened yet again. Another decorated military hero’s career has been threatened by our nation’s military leaders based on a politically-correct misrepresentation of—and unlawful discrimination against—his spiritual beliefs.

Yet as the legal conflict developed this week,the U.S. Navy’s charges against top-rated Chaplain Wes Modder—a man hailed by commanders as “essential,” “a national asset,” “the best of the best,” having “character, integrity” and a “moral center”—were called into serious question as an outcry continued to build against the Navy’s actions.

“How could a man with Chaplain Modder’s exemplary 19-year track record of superiority in his performance and compassionate care for sailors and Marines suddenly—virtually overnight—turn into a person whose conduct, out of the blue, made him worthy of being rudely removed from his job?” asked Mike Berry, First Liberty Institute’s Senior Counsel and Director of Military Affairs, who is representing Chaplain Modder. 

He continued, “The Navy’s reasoning simply makes no sense. The evidence is just not there. So what caused this? Discrimination, similar to other cases we’ve seen, and which turned out to be poor judgment by superiors. Only in an out-of-control, politically-correct environment could this outrage occur. It is an unlawful violation of religious liberty, a blow to Navy morale and therefore to military readiness, and for the country’s sake it cannot stand.” 


In 2014 Chaplain Modder—whose stellar service includes assignment as Force Chaplain for Naval Special Warfare Command—was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command at the request of a 4-star Admiral. 

Last year, a very small number of military personnel in private counseling sessions asked Chaplain Modder about the spiritual nature of certain personal conduct. Chaplain Modder is endorsed by the Assemblies of God, a respected Bible-believing denomination to which he belongs. He is bound to offer requested spiritual guidance in line with their viewpoint, as he has consistently and faithfully done for 15 years. 

First Liberty Institute’s Senior Counsel
& Director of Military Affairs, Mike Berry

But in this case, the small number of individuals at Chaplain Modder’s relatively new location did not agree with his traditional, biblical views regarding their inquiries.  As Berry says, “They did not hear what they wanted to hear” and so they complained. Then, apparently, the Navy did not follow usual procedure in getting Chaplain Modder’s side of the story and rushed to judgment against him. 

In today’s politically correct climate—and against federal and military code—Chaplain Modder was unlawfully relieved of duty and threatened with the end of his career.

“For the Navy to expect Chaplain Modder to say anything in a private counseling session other than guidance in line with the tenets of his denomination would be religious discrimination of the highest order—discrimination against him that is not allowed by law,” said Berry. 

He added, “And then to assume—against everything we know about his reputation, his character, his caring nature—that his answers would not have been within proper tone, is simply not credible. It is contrary to the evidence and goes against everything else we know to be true. Clearly, the Navy has made a very massive error.”


On Monday, March 9, 2015, First Liberty Institute sent a powerful response letter to the U.S. Navy, with a detailed rebuttal of every single charge against Chaplain Modder. 

First Liberty Institute warned the Navy it was engaging in unconstitutional and unlawful religious discrimination against Chaplain Modder, and formally requested the Navy reverse its punishment and restore Chaplain Modder to his role of serving sailors and Marines who need his spiritual guidance. FOX News contributor Todd Starnes broke the story on (click here to read more), and in response Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) commented via Twitter: “Sadly, Lt. Commander [Chaplain] Wes Modder is latest target in a series of assaults on religious liberty in military & across US.”

For First Liberty Institute, this is not new territory. Led by Mike Berry, First Liberty Institute  successfully defended the religious liberty rights of Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk, and Army Lieutenant Colonel Chuck Pudil after they were hit with similarly career-threatening charges. And after being initially admonished for giving suicide prevention training that included testimony of how his faith had helped him battle depression, First Liberty Institute client Chaplain (Captain) Joseph “Joe” Lawhorn now is hopeful he can continue such religious content. 

In the same way, First Liberty Institute attorneys will work to protect the constitutional right of religious expression for Chaplain Wes Modder.

“Chaplain Modder is a military hero, worthy of our highest honor,” said Berry. “How does the Navy thank Chaplain Modder for his nineteen years of exemplary service? By tearing him away from his unit, demoting him, and threatening to kick him out of the Navy. As a former Marine, I am devastated by the Navy’s lack of respect.” 


Chaplain Modder is a military hero who put his life on the line to serve our country, first as a decorated U.S. Marine, then as a Navy chaplain for the past 15 years, including service to elite forces such as DEVGRU and other Navy SEAL teams.

Ironically, because he personified its core values, the Navy featured him in a recruiting video for chaplains, in which he explained—with hearty Navy approval—the spiritual nature of the guidance he was privileged to offer!

“When I think that I was ministering to Navy sailors and Marines and SEALs over time and for the Navy to detach me for cause, I feel betrayed,” said Chaplain Modder. “I feel dishonored for my almost 20 years of service to my country.” (Click here to WATCH Chaplain Modder and his wife Beth share more about their painful and discriminatory experience.)

Chaplain Modder is not only a highly decorated military hero and chaplain. He has a Doctorate in Military Ministry. But unswayed by Chaplain Modder’s exceptional record, the Navy is using the misrepresentations of private conversations to punish Chaplain Modder and censor his religious expression. The U.S. Navy requests that Chaplain Modder:

  • Be REMOVED from the promotion list
  • “Detached for cause” (meaning Chaplain Modder would receive a DISHONORABLE DEMOTION on his official military recordand be permanently removed from his unit
  • Brought before an official BOARD OF INQUIRY, where he would be required to “show cause” why he should not be kicked out of the Navy

“To tell a chaplain he can’t share his faith in a counseling session is the moral equivalent of tying a soldier’s hands and feet and slapping duct tape over his mouth,” added Kelly Shackelford, First Liberty Institute President & CEO. “It’s like Uncle Sam is saying, ‘I want you­—but only if you keep your mouth shut about what you believe. Otherwise, you have no place in the military.’”

Berry is a former U.S. Marine Judge Advocate (JAG officer), and adjunct law professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. From that perspective, he explained, “Chaplains are the last line of defense for servicemen. In a soldier’s greatest hour of need, he can always turn to his chaplain for advice. For the Navy to respond by barring Chaplain Modder from his unit and hauling him before a Board of Inquiry, simply for providing counseling from a biblical perspective, is shameful.”


“My hope and prayer is that truth will prevail,” concluded Chaplain Modder. “For me to be able to operate as a military chaplain, an ordained minister with my church to our American military men and women . . . that has to be the outcome. Because that’s who we are as America.”

As Chaplain Modder’s legal defense moves forward, Americans need to support Chaplain Modder and stand up for the religious freedom of chaplains, and other brave members of our armed forces. Please sign the “Stop the Unlawful Action Against Chaplain Wes Modder, An American Hero” Petition addressed to TheHon. Ray Mabus, Secretary of the United States Navy.  

The law is on the side of Chaplain Modder, all chaplains, and all members of the U.S. Military who want to exercise their faith. But a public outcry is needed to wake up officials so that violations like this come to a stop. Thousands of Americans have let their voices be heard—please make sure you are among them.

Public Statements of Support for Chaplain Wes Modder:

Lieutenant General (Ret.) Boykin, U.S. Army
“The action taken against Lt. Commander Wes Modder is unacceptable, and must be rescinded immediately. Chaplains in the military must be allowed to fully and freely represent in word and in deed the faith communities that have endorsed them.”

The Assemblies of God (Chaplain Modder’s Denominational Endorser)
“The Assemblies of God stands solidly behind Wes Modder. . . . Chaplain Modder is in good standing with us as an ordained minister and has served us faithfully as a military chaplain for 15 years.”

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)
“[Chaplain] Wes Modder, a chaplain in the US Navy, is the latest target in a series of assaults on religious liberty in the military and across the nation.”

Franklin Graham, CEO of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
“It’s a sad day in America when military chaplains have to choose between being true to their faith and keeping their jobs. . . . [Chaplain] Wes Modder was reassigned and could be discharged because he was living out his faith—and doing a good job. . . . A highly decorated 19-year military veteran, Modder doesn’t deserve this—nor does anyone. In December, he received a commendation saying he was ‘the best of the best.’”

Rick Santorum, former United States Senator and presidential candidate
“No place should [the] right [to free exercise of religion] be more welcomed and encouraged than in our nation’s military that is trusted with protecting those freedoms. I urge the U.S. Navy to take the appropriate steps to ensure Chaplain Modder and the many men and women of all faiths like him have their God-given and constitutionally protected free exercise of religion embraced.”

Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council
“This isn’t just about [Chaplain Modder]—but every service member who deserves the right to enjoy the religious liberty they’re fighting for. . . . It isn’t supposed to be this way—and it doesn’t have to be this way—if Americans who love their freedoms and their country will stand up and speak out!”


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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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