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The US military chaplaincy

The US military chaplaincy is fully rooted in the Constitution, as are the principles for all types of
chaplaincy ministries in America. The law review read in this module/week provides insight concerning
the constitutionality of the chaplaincy, both from a Free Exercise Clause and an Establishment Clause
perspective. After completing the reading you will need to accomplish the following exercise:
Write a 3-page paper (following the current Turabian edition) analyzing the Constitutional authority,
freedom, and challenges evangelical chaplains face serving in the military�s pluralistic environment. This
assignment is designed to help you assess the legal authority and freedom afforded military chaplains, as
well as the challenges evangelical chaplains face while serving in a pluralistic environment. This
assignment will require at least 3 distinct sources.
Website: Instruments of Accommodation: The Military Chaplaincy and the Constitution

Reflection Paper 3

Task: Constitutional authority, freedom, and challenges evangelical chaplains face serving in the
military’s pluralistic environment.
The term ‘Chaplain’ refers to a clergy man whose duties are rendered to a specific entity besides
a church. This is usually an institution that exists independently of others and this may include a
school, a military, a private chapel or even a ship. This paper will focus on the position of the
Chaplain in the United States Military and the manner in which his or her duties interact with
different forces that the military is subjected to both legally and socially. The work of a chaplain
stationed in the military is to provide ministerial services to the members of the military, the
immediate kin of the military members and any other individuals who reside within military
barracks or similar establishments. While the position of Chaplain has strong Christian roots, it is
generally accepted today as a job description for any person who has been employed by the
Military to provide its members with some form of spiritual guidance depending on their
religious position (Lupu and Robert, Instruments for Accomodation, 89 ).

Constitutionality of the office of the Chaplain
One of the most contentious issues in the United States Military for the past few decades is the
constitutionality of the Chaplaincy. The main reason for this is the fact that the United States is
generally accepted a secular state with the government being obligated to hold a neutral stance
when it comes to matters religious. The fact that the term chaplain has strong Christian
connotations coupled with its being funded by the federal government have led to many
argument and lawsuits over the apparent existence of a double-standard over the country’s
secularity. Those in support of the existence of this position in the military argue that this is well
within the bounds of granting members of the armed forces a chance to freely practice their
religions of choice. A case in the court of appeal between Katcoff and Marsh in 1985 lends
credence to this point of view since the court saw the chaplaincy as an active effort to give
members of the military a chance the freedom to follow whatever religion they deemed
favorable. Opponents to the Chaplaincy claim that this office’s existence and its being funded
through public funds by the Federal Government will easily lead to its entanglement in the
complexities of religious matters.
The Authority of Chaplains
The authority that chaplains have to perform their duties within the military is today largely
based on the close association between this office and the military coupled with court judgments
regarding the issue. The case of Katcoff vs. Marsh is by far one of the most important court
decisions that influence the authority of Chaplains (Rosen, Katcoff v. Marsh, 1137). This is not
so much about the court’s support for the chaplaincy but more importantly its provision of
guidelines for this position. The court ruling basically allowed military chaplains to carry out

their work so long as they remained within boundaries such as avoiding coercion or evangelism
thus maintaining the military members’ freedom of religion. The chaplains are therefore free to
carry out their duties so long as their congregants participated voluntarily and also within the
confines of the law and more specifically the Free Exercise clause. The Free Exercise clause was
established in 1878 following a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Reynolds vs. The United
Challenges faced by Chaplains in the Military’s Pluralistic environment
One of the key characteristics of the military is the uniformity of its members from a superficial
point of view. This is to say that they are expected to reflect similar values as they have a
common master and when in battle, will serve a common enemy. Under the surface however it
has become necessary to appreciate the fact that the members of the military come from diverse
backgrounds and one of the key contributors to this diversity is religion and culture (Bergen, The
Sword of the Lord, ). The population of the USA is predominantly Christian but there is a
growing number of individuals from different religious backgrounds such as Islam, Buddhism as
well as Atheists. From a social stand-point people are divided along lines depending on their
beliefs about same sex unions. An example of this is the ‘Don’t ask don’t tell’ policy that came
up in 1992 due to the controversy surrounding homosexuality in the forces. While still on
religious matters, several Chaplains have come under fire following accusations against them
claiming that they are contravening the guidelines set for their work as well as infringing upon
the non-believing soldier’s freedom of worship.
Some of these differences that people have led to calls for the removal of the position of chaplain
from the Military since some Christian teachings are against these differences which are

inherently accepted by the constitution. There has also been pressure from Atheist lobby groups
to have the position of chaplain assigned to a non-believer so as to reflect the neutrality of the
federal government.


  1. Bergen, Doris L. The Sword of the Lord: military chaplains from the first to the twenty-
    first century. Univ of Notre Dame Pr, 2004.
  2. Lupu, Ira C., and Robert W. Tuttle. “Instruments of Accommodation: The Military
    Chaplaincy and the Constitution.” W. Va. L. Rev. 110 (2007): 89.
  3. Rosen, Richard D. “Katcoff v. Marsh at Twenty-Two: The Military Chaplaincy and the
    Separation of Church and State.” U. Tol. L. Rev. 38 (2006): 1137.
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