Chaplains Get Command Support, Spurn Social Media Rumors
By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 29, 2014 A senior Defense Department official and members of the Armed Forces Chaplains Board reported to Congress today regarding the accommodation of religious practices within the services.
At a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel subcommittee, Virginia S. Penrod, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy, said the Defense Department clarified freedoms and service members’ protection of rights in DOD Instruction 1300.17, Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services.
The clarification resulted from congressional concerns and language in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, she said.
Penrod told the House panel she conducted a teleconference with more than 30 chaplains to pulse the field and gauge not only the level of command support, but also whether chaplains ever had been required to perform duties that were inconsistent with their faith.
“I asked if they were allowed to preach or practice according to the tenets of their faith; their response was an overwhelming ‘yes,’” she said.
The survey indicated that chaplains felt they were given the support they needed from their commands, and 100 percent of respondents said they had not performed ceremonies that went against their faith, Penrod said. Still, she acknowledged, a few chaplains said some leaders tend to be overly reactive to social media.
But, “almost all believed the key to a productive and trusting climate was good communication and continued training on the rights of chaplains [and] commanders,” she said.
Chaplains and commanders, she added, continue to navigate recent policy changes such as same sex marriage, but have not expressed a difficulty in doing so. “The group felt that social media rumors were the source of most misinformation, and these create constant challenges to keep the chaplains properly informed of the facts,” she said.
Although she gleaned feedback from a small survey sampling, Penrod said, her direct communication with the chaplains reinforced that the services’ chiefs of chaplains have open communication with the chaplains. And chaplains, she noted, are not concerned about free exercise or expression of their faiths.
“If an incident does occur, they are confident it will be worked appropriately,” she said.
Armed Forces Chaplains Board member Chaplain (Rear Adm.) Mark L. Tidd, chief of Navy chaplains, echoed the sentiment and related to Congress that service members should be afforded dignity, respect and compassion, whatever their religious beliefs.
“For many of our people, religious faith is an essential component –- even the foundation of their resilience in the face of adversity,” he said. “Chaplains bring a message of hope for all who seek our support, often in times of our deepest human need.”
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