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A Little History Lesson For Rep. Walter B. Jones About Military Chaplains

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Here we go again -- the new session of Congress has just begun and another bill about military chaplains praying in Jesus' name has already been introduced.

On January 7, Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC) introduced H.R. 268, a bill "To amend title 10, United States Code, to ensure that every military chaplain has the prerogative to close a prayer outside of a religious service according to the dictates of the chaplain's own conscience." H.R. 268, a regurgitation of H.R. 6514, which was introduced in the last congress but never made it to the floor, would amend Title 10 of the U.S. Code to state, in five separate sections:

"If called upon to lead a prayer outside of a religious service, a chaplain shall have the prerogative to close the prayer according to the dictates of the chaplain's own conscience."


What needs to be clearly understood here is that chaplains can already pray in whatever manner they see fit when performing their religious services. What H.R. 268 is talking about is chaplains being allowed to pray sectarian Christian prayers at all military functions -- functions that are mandatory for service members of a wide variety of religions, as well as those of no religion. The bill would put the language above into all of the sections of Title 10 regarding chaplains, making it applicable to all branches of the military as well as the service academies.

The actual bill itself, of course, does not name the religion of Christianity or state that the bill's purpose is specifically to allow prayers in Jesus' name at mandatory, non-religious functions, but in a press release put out by his office, Rep. Jones makes it quite clear that this is the case.

"For Christian chaplains, closing their prayers in the name of Jesus Christ is a fundamental part of their beliefs, and to suppress this form of expression would violate their religious freedom. ...Demand for so-called 'non-sectarian' prayer is merely a euphemism declaring that prayers will be acceptable only so long as they censor Christian beliefs."


Rep. Jones also employs the usual argument that this is about protecting the First Amendment rights of chaplains, asserting that a Christian chaplain praying a non-sectarian prayer when addressing an audience with diverse beliefs is an infringement on that chaplain's free exercise of religion. This is just plain backwards. Chaplains are there to serve the troops, and not the other way around. It is the right of the troops under the First Amendment's establishment clause, and not right the chaplains under the free exercise clause, that should take precedence when the two conflict.

According to Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force Academy honor graduate, former JAG, a former White House counsel in the Reagan administration, and the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF):

"It is the unequivocal and official position of MRFF that, in the United States military, our Constitution's Free Exercise clause ought to be absolutely trumped by the No Establishment Clause, plain and simple, period, end of sentence. This foundational perspective is not at all surprising and is grounded in bedrock logic and irrefutable history. Indeed, many of our precious Constitutional rights and freedoms are severely abridged for our armed forces members in order to serve the higher goal of providing the requisite magnitude of good order and discipline for a bold and effective army, navy, air force and marine corps. In turn, it is this critical good order and discipline which creates for our military the necessary lethality to protect the full panoply of Constitutional rights for all of the rest of us American civilians."


In the press release about H.R. 268, Rep. Jones goes even further than the usual free exercise argument, actually claiming that having chaplains keep their prayers at other than religious events non-sectarian "in effect establishes an official religion." So, non-sectarian prayers somehow establish an official religion, but sectarian prayers don't? Right. That makes lots of sense.

The position of MRFF is completely in line with the position of George Washington and his generals during the Revolutionary War -- the "smallest uneasiness" caused among the troops by religious activity must be avoided. The following is what Washington wrote to the Continental Congress in 1777, when a proposed change in the Revolutionary army's chaplain system was objected to by the brigadier generals, who were of the opinion that it would be "impossible for them to discharge the duty" because it could cause religious disputes among the troops.

"...It has been suggested, that it has a tendency to introduce religious disputes into the Army, which above all things should be avoided, and in many instances would compel men to a mode of Worship which they do not profess. The old Establishment gives every Regiment an Opportunity of having a Chaplain of their own religious Sentiments, it is founded on a plan of a more generous toleration, and the choice of the Chaplains to officiate, has been generally in the Regiments. Supposing one Chaplain could do the duties of a Brigade, (which supposition However is inadmissible, when we view things in practice) that being composed of four or five, perhaps in some instances, Six Regiments, there might be so many different modes of Worship. I have mentioned the Opinion of the Officers and these hints to Congress upon this Subject; from a principle of duty and because cause I am well assured, it is most foreign to their wishes or intention to excite by any act, the smallest uneasiness and jealousy among the Troops."(1)


But, it is something else in the press release about H.R. 268 that led me to call this post a history lesson. In the release, Rep. Jones is also quoted as saying:

"Throughout our nation's history, chaplains not only have remained an integral part of our military, but they have always prayed according to their faith tradition."


Well, Rep. Jones, that's only true if you pretty much omit the entire nineteenth century.

(Warning: My New Year's resolution was to get back to writing about history more, so you will all now be subjected to one of my lengthy historical essays.)

The first thing that needs to be understood that, contrary to Rep. Jones claim that chaplains "have remained an integral part of our military" throughout our nation's history, there really wasn't much of a military chaplaincy at all during the War of 1812 or up through the time of the Mexican-American War. Naval commanders had been authorized to appoint chaplains, but many of these were not ordained ministers, and their purpose was as much to be instructors in everything from reading and writing to navigational skills as it was to be preachers. Some officers even saw their authority to appoint a chaplain as a way to get a personal secretary, and chose them for their ability to perform that job, with little regard for their religious qualifications. During the War of 1812, there was only one army chaplain for as many as 8,000 men, and, with the exception of the 1818 appointment of a chaplain at West Point, who doubled as a professor of history, geography, and ethics, there were no new army chaplains until 1838, with the authorization of a small number of post chaplains.

Army post chaplains, like their counterparts in the navy, were hired mainly as teachers, and also served as everything from librarians to mess officers to defense counsel during courts-martial. Post chaplains were not members of the military. They were civilian employees hired by the post's Council of Administration. And, since they were not assigned to the military unit that they served, but to the post itself, they did not accompany the troops when the Mexican-American War began. In 1847, Congress passed a law transferring the control over post chaplains from the post councils to the Secretary of War, giving the Secretary of War the authority to require a chaplain to accompany their post's troops into the field whenever a majority of the troops were deployed. Those chaplains who refused to go were fired.

The 1847 law caused a bit of a problem, however, because it neglected to actually give anyone the authority to appoint chaplains. In fact, when President Polk appointed two Catholic "chaplains" in an effort to stop the propaganda that the war was an attack upon the Mexicans' religion, he made these as political appointments rather than chaplain appointments, saying that there was no law authorizing army chaplains. The total number of army chaplains during the Mexican-American War was fifteen, including these two Catholic priests who weren't actually chaplains.

By the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, opposition to government paid chaplains was already brewing, and a vigorous campaign to abolish both the military and congressional chaplaincies that soon began would go on for well over a decade, supported by both members of the military and civilians, including churches and religious leaders. A large part of the general public objected to chaplaincy establishments on constitutional grounds; religious organizations objected to them on both religious and constitutional grounds; and military personnel, including chaplains, objected to them for a variety of reasons, including complaints of religious coercion and discrimination uncannily similar to those heard today.

Does the following sound familiar to anyone?

"Mr. Hamlin presented the memorial of Joseph Stockbridge, a chaplain in the navy, praying the enactment of a law to protect chaplains in the performance of divine service on shipboard, according to the practices and customs of the churches of which they may be members, which was referred to the Committee on Naval Affairs."(2)


Well, that was written in 1858...not 2008!

The memorial of Chaplain Stockbridge, and a number of petitions from Baptist and Presbyterian organizations and other groups, make it pretty clear that there was not only a problem with naval officers requiring non-Episcopalian chaplains to perform Episcopalian services, but also an unfair preference for Episcopalians in the appointment of chaplains.

So, contrary to Rep. Jones's claim that chaplains "have always prayed according to their faith tradition," we see that a century and a half ago, chaplains of minority denominations were being forced by their commanders not only to pray according to another faith tradition, but to perform actual worship services of another faith tradition.

In response to these complaints, Congress investigated the matter, requesting reports like the one described in the following House resolution.

"Resolved, That the Secretary of the Navy, during the present session, be requested to communicate to this House the number of chaplains appointed in any branch of the navy service since 1813; the religious denomination to which each person so appointed was attached, so far as it can be ascertained; whether chaplains, by any navy regulation, or any act of commanders of vessels or stations, are required to use a particular uniform or clerical dress, including a gown, or to read prayers, or to comply with any particular forms or ceremonies of Divine service; and whether there is any evidence on file in the department tending to show that non-Episcopal ministers are required by officers of the navy to use the Episcopal liturgy."(3)


The report of the Secretary of the Navy in answer to this House resolution was incomplete, leaving the denominations of most of the chaplains blank, but a similar report provided by the army a few years earlier revealed a clear domination by Episcopalians. That report showed that of the eighty army chaplains appointed between 1813 and 1856, over half had been Episcopalian, outnumbering Presbyterians four to one, Baptists over eight to one, Methodists by nearly fifteen to one, etc.

With the following provision in An Act to increase and regulate the Pay of the Navy of the United States, passed on June 1, 1860, Congress addressed the complaint of commanders forcing chaplains to conduct worship services of a faith tradition other than their own.

"Every chaplain shall be permitted to conduct public worship according to the manner and forms of the church of which he may be a member."(4)


Congress did not, however, address the issue of the domination of the chaplaincy by one denomination at this time. There was a resolution introduced in the House a in January 1862 that included a provision stating that no more than one-fourth of the chaplains at any given time could belong to the same ecclesiastical body, but nothing appears to have come of this.

Instead of moving forward, Congress took a giant step backwards, mandating, in An Act providing for better Organization of the Military Establishment, passed on August 3, 1861, that all chaplains be Christians.

"Sec. 7. And be it further enacted, That one chaplain shall be allowed to each regiment of the army, to be selected and appointed as the President may direct: Provided, That none but regularly ordained ministers of some Christian denomination shall be eligible to selection or appointment."(5)


A similar provision to that in the act for the regular army also appeared in the July 22, 1861 act authorizing the president to raise a volunteer force, which stated that a chaplain "must be a regular ordained minister of a Christian denomination."(6)

No prior legislation authorizing chaplains had ever mandated that chaplains had to be of a particular religion, or even that they had to be ordained ministers. Apparently, the earlier congresses were familiar with that pesky "no religious test" clause in the Constitution, applying it even to the office of chaplain. The criteria for a chaplain in the 1838 law authorizing the Councils of Administration to hire post chaplains, for example, was simply "such person as they may think proper to officiate as chaplain."(7)

The 1861 law requiring chaplains to be Christians was quickly and successfully challenged. The usual practice at the time for appointing army chaplains was for each regiment to elect their own chaplain, and a regiment from Pennsylvania had elected a Jewish cantor, Michael Mitchell Allen for the position. When the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) exposed this regiment's grievous violation of the 1861 chaplain law, Allen resigned rather than face the humiliation of losing his commission. But the regiment, known as "Cameron's Dragoon," decided to test the constitutionality of the law. They proceeded to replace Allen with a rabbi, knowing full well that his application for a commission would be denied. After a public outcry over the denial of the rabbi's commission, which included numerous petitions from Jewish organizations, groups of citizens, and even the members of one state legislature, the 1861 provision requiring chaplains to be Christians was repealed.

The revised qualifications appeared in An Act to define the Pay and Emoluments of certain Officers of the Army, and for other Purposes, passed on July 17, 1862.

"That no person shall be appointed a chaplain in the United States army who is not a regularly ordained minister of some religious denomination, and who does not present testimonials of his present good standing as such minister, with a recommendation for his appointment as an army chaplain from some authorized ecclesiastical body, or not less than five accredited ministers belonging to said religious denomination."(8)


A few months later, in September 1862, the first Jewish chaplain was legally commissioned by President Lincoln. After the Civil War, the chaplaincy was reduced to the thirty post chaplains/school teachers, as authorized in 1838, even though the regular army was twice the size it had been in 1838. Six additional chaplains were authorized for the six black regiments of the regular army, but this was reduced to four in 1869. From 1869 until 1898, thirty-four was the set number of chaplains authorized for the Army.

Now, as I mentioned before getting into these events of 1858 through the Civil War, the battle over chaplains actually began in the late 1840s, at the time of the Mexican-American War. The requests for oversight and reform in the late 1850s and early 1860s described above were made only after the massive effort to abolish the chaplaincy altogether had failed.

Beginning in 1848, countless petitions poured into both houses of Congress calling for an end to the military and congressional chaplaincies. The first of these to be presented in the Senate was from a Baptist association in North Carolina.

"Mr. BADGER presented the memorial, petition, and remonstrance of the ministers and delegates representing the churches which compose the Kehukee Primitive Baptist Association, assembled in Conference with the Baptist Church at Great Swamp, Pitt county, North Carolina praying that Congress will abolish all laws or resolutions now in force respecting the establishment of religion, whereby Chaplains to Congress, the army, and navy, are employed and paid to exercise their religious functions.

"Mr. BADGER said he wished it to be understood that he did not concur in the object of this memorial. He thought the petitioners were entirely wrong. But as the petition was couched in respectful language, he would ask for its reading and would then move that it be laid on the table and printed."(9)


The Mr. Badger who presented the Baptist Association's memorial was Senator George Edmund Badger, the senator who, five years later as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, would write a very pro-Christian report dismissing the countless petitions to abolish the chaplaincy -- a report that is frequently quoted by today's Christian nationalists to show how very religious and pro-Christian Congress was in the nineteenth century. The revisionists simply neglect to mention that Sen. Badger's report, and a similar report a year later from a House committee, had anything to do with a mid-nineteenth century campaign to abolish the chaplaincy. Acknowledging the historical context of these reports would contradict the bedrock revisionist argument that there were no complaints or questions over the constitutionality of government religious establishments until modern day secularists decided to wage a war on Christianity.

The out of context quotes from these reports were used by Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) in H. Res. 888, his proposed resolution in the last Congress for the designation of an "American Religious History Week." H. Res. 888, with its seventy-five "Whereas" clauses full of distortions and lies about American history, was admittedly, according to Rep. Forbes's cohorts David Barton and Rick Green of of the history revisionist organization WallBuilders, a backdoor way to get the Christian nationalist version of American history into our public schools. Forbes's resolution, which had ninety-three co-sponsors, is also likely to be reintroduced in this session of Congress.

The following were the 1853 Senate and 1854 House committee reports quotes plucked from their historical context by Rep. Forbes for two of his H. Res. 888 'Whereas" clauses:

"Whereas in 1853 the U. S. Senate declared that the Founding Fathers 'had no fear or jealousy of religion itself, nor did they wish to see us an irreligious people . . . they did not intend to spread over all the public authorities and the whole public action of the nation the dead and revolting spectacle of atheistical apathy';"

"Whereas in 1854 the United States House of Representatives declared 'It [religion] must be considered as the foundation on which the whole structure rests. . . . Christianity; in its general principles, is the great conservative element on which we must rely for the purity and permanence of free institutions';"


Obviously, Senator Badger, who had stated in 1848 that he "did not concur in the object" of the Baptist organization's petition to abolish the chaplaincy, was not someone who was going to be objective in considering the many similar petitions he was asked to report on in 1853. Badger was not only a devout Episcopalian -- the denomination that had taken over the military chaplaincy -- but had been Secretary of the Navy before becoming a senator. So serious was Badger about his religion that when North Carolina's Bishop, Levi Silliman Ives, was accused of incorporating doctrines and rituals of the "Romish Church" into the Protestant Episcopal Church, the senator wrote An Examination of the Doctrines Declared and Powers Claimed by the Right Reverend Bishop Ives, and published it anonymously as "A Layman of of the Protestant Episcopal Church in North Carolina," helping to force the retirement of the bishop. Congressman James Meacham, who wrote the similar report in the House in 1854, was a Congregationalist minister until being elected to the House to fill a vacancy, and just as biased as Sen. Badger.

Another issue during the mid-1800s chaplain battle was the following naval regulation from 1800 giving commander's the authority to force their subordinates to attend religious services, enacted during the very religious Adams administration, and still in force in 1858.

"Art. II. The commanders of all ships and vessels in the navy, having chaplains on board, shall take care that divine service be performed in a solemn, orderly, and reverent manner twice a day, and a sermon be preached on Sunday, unless bad weather, or extraordinary accidents prevent it; and that they cause all, or as many of the ship's company as can be spared from duty, to attend at every performance of worship of Almighty God."(10)


The protest against mandatory religious services was led by a group of Navy officers, who petitioned Congress in 1858 to amend this law and make religious services optional.

"By Mr. Kelly: The memorial of officers of the navy of the United States, praying that the act of Congress passed April 23, 1800, compelling commanders of all ships or vessels in the navy, having chaplains on board, to take care that Divine service is performed twice a day, be so amended as to read that the commanders or captains invite all to attend; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary."(11)


As already mentioned, many of the protests against government chaplains came from religious organizations -- primarily the Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists. Here are a few examples showing how similar the opinions of these mid-1800s Christians were to those of the modern-day secularists that people like Rep. Jones and Rep. Forbes claim are trying to destroy Christianity.

The following was written Rev. William Anderson Scott, one of the most prominent Presbyterian ministers of his day, in his 1859 book The Bible and Politics, a book written in part to refute an an Episcopalian Bishop's pro-Bible in public schools book that, as Rev. Scott put it, was "designed to show that religion is connected with everything American." Rev. Scott makes a number of references to California in this excerpt, due to the fact that this is where he was at the time, having moved there a number of years earlier to establish a Presbyterian church and seminary in the new state. This is from the section of his book rebutting the commonly used argument that "The Continental Congress opened its sessions with prayer, and it is our custom to have chaplains."

"I do not take the ground (as some have done in vindicating our government for not providing for the support of a religion, or in defense of our Legislature for not electing chaplains,) that the church and the closet are the only proper places for prayer; for it is no part of the duty of our government to provide a religion either for the people or for their legislators. In the sense of deciding what religion is, or of deciding which is true or which is false -- and which, therefore, is to be sustained and which put down -- the American Government knows no religion. It is not for the government, therefore, to pay any one for offering prayer or reciting a creed. The government allows every one to believe what creed he pleases, and to pray as much as he pleases, and whenever he pleases, provided he does not, on the plea of so doing, commit a trespass or become a nuisance. Every citizen, whether an office-holder or a mere voter, is to enjoy his ewn religion, or do without any, but the government does not undertake to support any citizen's religion; nor do I see how it is possible for a popular government, like ours, to occupy any other platform. We are a multitude of peoples, and of every kind of opinion, and, as citizens, all equal, and the moment any form or creed of religion is preferred by the government, that moment a difference is made, a preference is shown, which is directly contrary to our fundamental laws.

"Nor is it true that our legislators and congressmen 'represent the moral and religious status of their constituents;' and that, therefore, it is the first duty of a civilized people, in its legislative halls, to reverence the Deity, 'and that, consequently, chaplains must be elected and paid out of the State treasury.' Our legislators are not elected to represent our moral and religious status, but our civil rights, and our civil rights only so far as they have been surrendered to the Government. But among the rights surrendered there is no power given to the Legislature to make laws to secure the reading of the Bible. We do not vote for members to the Legislature on religious grounds. It is impossible for them to represent the morality and religious belief of their constituents. Nor does the Constitution give them any power over our religious status. Our legislators, then, have just as much right to take the people's money to buy their coats with as to pay a chaplain to say prayers for them. If a chaplain is needful, it is as a personal necessity, and not as a civil or legislative one. But this is not prohibiting the members of the Legislature from having a chaplain, provided they employ and pay him on their individual account. Nor is this hindering the members from being pious. God forbid. But have they not homes in which to pray, and may they not go to Church on the Lord's day, selecting their own place of worship? It seems to me just as necessary and as constitutional for the government to appoint a chaplain to every Court, and have every jury impannelled upon prayer.

"But, then, it is argued, we must have a chaplain in the Legislature, in order to show that California is not altogether beyond the pale of civilization -- that is, we must put the cloak of piety over the Legislature elect, and pay a man to pray for our lawgivers, in order to make our characters respectable abroad. I had supposed hypocrisy was a species of irreligion. Besides, I have yet to hear, for the first time, the charge from abroad that California is beyond the restraints of religion and morality, because there is no chaplain in her Legislature. I have heard that bribery, gambling and lawlessness had made us appear as a reckless, God-forsaken people; but I have never heard that we were disgraced for not having the prayers of our legislators said by proxy.

"Some of the advocates of chaplains lament that there has been in our Legislature so much 'disgraceful squabbling' over the election, and failure to elect a chaplain. And this is just one of the reasons why there should be no such election, and no such an officer known to the Legislature, as such. Has it ever been, or will it ever be otherwise than that political and partizan views should, more or less, control such elections? Those who have seen most, and thought most on this subject, admit that such elections have been mainly partizan movements.

"But it is contended that the Legislature, in not electing chaplains, shows an impious disregard for the custom of other Legislatures, and for religion itself. Is this true? Has Virginia, or New York, or Pennsylvania, or Louisiana a chaplain? Is the House of Commons, or the Assembly of France, or the House of Lords, with its bench of bishops, opened with prayer? Is the Supreme Court opened with prayer? If not, is it an impious institution? So Dr. Cheever may consider it, but the American people and our laws have not so decided. And where and how is this kind of legislating away the people's money for religion to end, if we once begin? For, surely, if the Legislature must have a chaplain, so supported, our asylums, and hospitals, and state prisons have a much greater need for chaplains. For our legislators are supposed to be free, able-bodied men, who can attend church, while the inmates of our houses of mercy and correction cannot do so.

"But it is said, and with some force, 'the Federal Government may send chaplains with its armies and fleets, because it should provide the consolations of religion for all its servants, and that the minister of religion is as necessary as the surgeon.' To deny this, seems indeed a great hardship, if not a species of cruelty. But there never has been instituted among men a perfect government. Some imperfection or defect is found in them all. If chaplains could be appointed equally acceptable to all, and without showing a preference for a creed or sect, then, perhaps, the army and navy could be thus supplied. But this is not the case. Thus far, almost all such appointments have been made from one of the smallest denominations in the country, and that, too, against the religious preferences of nine-tenths of the men in the army and navy. I do not profess here to speak with mathematical accuracy, but I believe I am very nearly correct. Is this right? Is it constitutional for the Federal Government to give such a preference to one of the smallest churches in the land? Is it constitutional to take the public money to pay a chaplain for religious services that are not acceptable to a majority of the rank and file of the army? I do not think so. If the majority of a regiment, or of the men on board a man-of-war, should elect a chaplain, then, possibly, the Government might make an appropriation to pay him, though I doubt whether this is constitutional, and I do not believe it the best way. I believe that the supplying of religious consolations to the members of our Legislature, and to the officers and men of our army and navy, according to our organic laws, should be left to themselves, just as it is to our merchant ships and to our frontier settlements -- that is, to their own voluntary support. Our blacksmiths, police officers, Front-street merchants, lawyers and physicians all need the blessings of religion; but they must provide for their own individual wants. And, in the same way, I would leave the army and the navy and the legislatures, and I would do so the more readily, because the different churches and voluntary religious societies would then all stand truly on an equality, and hold themselves ready to help in furnishing such supplies. Suppose a regiment is ordered to the wilderness, let the men elect a chaplain and pay him themselves. Then they will be more likely to profit by his services. Or let a missionary society, by the vote of the citizen soldiers, be asked to send them a minister of religion. If the government appoints a Protestant chaplain, is it a disobedience of orders for a Catholic to refuse to accept of his services? I see nothing but difficulty and the engendering of constant sectarian feuds and bad feeling, if the Federal Government touches anything that is religious."(12)


This one is a report of the 1868 General Conference of the Methodist Church, showing that even twenty years after the first petitions began flowing into Congress in the 1840s, the issues -- particularly the domination of the chaplaincy by Episcopalians -- had not yet been resolved. By this time, attempts to entirely abolish the chaplaincy had, for the most part, been abandoned, but the fight for the next best thing -- an equality in the appointment of chaplains -- continued. Note that the "unjust appointment of chaplains in the Military and Naval Academies" was an issue of particular concern in 1868, just as it is today, with the recent shift at the service to an overwhelming majority of chaplains who espouse a narrow fundamentalist version of Christianity.

REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON CHAPLAINCIES IN THE ARMY AND NAVY.

"The Committee to which was referred the subject of Chaplaincies in the Army and Navy present the following report:

"There is a deep and wide-spread conviction that great, though, perhaps, unintentional injustice has been done to the leading religious denominations of the land in the appointment of Chaplains to the Army and Navy. These appointments have been confined, if not exclusively, yet very largely, to one of the smallest branches of the Christian Church. A practical union of Church and State could scarcely have secured to it a more exclusive monoply, as the following facts and figures will clearly demonstrate:

"The various branches of the Methodist Church in the United States number 2,358,425; the several Presbyterian bodies nearly 1,000,000, and the united divisions of the Baptists fully 1,300,000. These three gigantic denominations, with an aggregate membership of 4,658,425, had, at the time of the latest official report to which your committee had access, eleven chaplains in the navy of the Republic, while the Protestant Episcopal Church, with the comparatively small membership of 154,000, entitling it to one clerical representative, had sixteen clergymen in the service.

"Other facts are equally suggestive. Twenty-three years have elapsed since the establishment of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. During eighteen years of the time, chaplains, representing the Protestant Episcopal clergy, have had the exclusive religious training of the successive classes. The Presbyterians and Congregationalists were represented for five years, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, a Church which gave more men to the nation during its years of peril than any other, was represented just three weeks! A Methodist minister was appointed, but his appointment was the occasion for earnest efforts lor his displacement -- efforts which, we are sorry to state, were but too successful; and Rev. C. A. Davis, a man of God, possessed of fine pulpit abilities, pastoral energy, personal popularity, and peculiar adaptation to the work, was retired from the place before he had entered upon his official duties, and his place supplied by a clergyman of the Protestant Episcopal Church. The same is true of the appointments to West Point, and in the regular army. Is it not high time for the three overshadowing branches of American Protestantism -- and, indeed, for all branches -- to unite in an earnest protest against this unequal distribution of chaplaincies in the army and navy, and this great outrage upon their denominational dignity. Hundreds of the sons of members of these denominations are gathered to these institutions, and their religious culture is a question of vital importance. Too many of those under whose religious tuition they are placed, according to the testimony of eminent evangelical Protestant Episcopal clergymen, whom we all delight to honor, are rapidly drifting into mere ritualism and semi-popery. We call attention, therefore, to this matter, not to excite mere sectarian bigotry. The question touches deeper interests than those excited by mere denominational pride. States number 2,358,425; the several Presbyterian bodies nearly 1,000,000, and the united divisions of the Baptists fully 1,300,000. These three gigantic denominations, with an aggregate membership of 4,658,425, had, at the time of the latest official report to which your Committee had access, eleven chaplains in the navy of the Republic, while the Protestant Episcopal Church, with the comparatively small membership of 154,000, entitling it to less than one clerical representative, had sixteen clergymen in the service.

"What is the remedy? We answer, In more equal legislation only. In this way alone can the unequal and unjust policy be corrected. The various denominations should unite in memoralizing Congress to enact that the Secretaries of War and of the Navy, in selecting chaplains, shall not appoint more than a fixed proportion for any one denomination, and that the position shall not be held for longer than a fixed time by the ministers of any one Church. These appointments, in part at least, ought to be made from civil life.

"Your Committee recommend for adoption the following resolutions:

"Resolved, 1. By the General Conference, in the name and in behalf of the ministers and members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, that we hereby protest the unequal and unjust appointment of chaplains in the Military and Naval Academies, and in the Army and Navy of the United States.

"Resolved, 2. That a Committee of five, consisting of three ministers, one of whom shall be a Bishop, and two laymen, be appointed to confer with other religious bodies, and also to memorialize Congress in order to secure proper legislation on the subject."(13)


And, finally, to show just how many Americans, as well as religious organizations, viewed both military and congressional chaplains as a violation of the Constitution over a century and a half ago, here's a little list of petitions reported in the House calling for the abolition of the government's chaplain establishments, many of which were signed by hundreds of individuals and church members. Countless similar petitions were also received by the Senate, but the list below of those received by the House (which is probably not even a complete list) should be more than enough to blow out of the water any assertion that the constitutional questionability of government paid chaplains is some new notion conjured up by a few modern-day secularists.

February 22, 1849 -- By Mr. John R. J. Daniel: The memorial of American citizens, praying for the repeal of all laws or provisions whereby chaplains to Congress for the army and navy, or other public stations, are employed by the government to exercise their religious functions, and whereby religious schools among the Indians are established, and religious teachers employed therein, at the expense of the government.

January 3, 1850 -- Mr. Turney presented a petition of citizens of Tennessee, praying that the appointment of chaplains in the public service may be discontinued.

January 3, 1850 -- Mr. Bradbury presented a petition of citizens of Maine, praying that the appointment of chaplains in the public service may be discontinued, and that Congress will refrain from all legislation on religions subjects.

January 9, 1850 -- By Mr. Parker: The petition of citizens of the State of Virginia, praying for the abolition of the office of chaplaincy wherever it exists by authority of Congress.

January 12, 1850 -- By Mr. Otis: The petition of citizens of the State of Maine, praying for the discontinuance of chaplains in Congress.

January 16, 1850 -- By Mr. Rumsey: The petition of citizens of the State of New York, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains by the general government.

January 17, 1850 -- By Mr. McGaughey: Two memorials of citizens of the State of Indiana, praying for the abolition of the employment of chaplains in all branches of the general government.

January 18, 1850 -- By Mr. Wellborn: The memorial of citizens of the State of Georgia, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the service of the United States.

January 19, 1850 -- By Mr. Job Mann: The petition of citizens of Bedford county, in the State of Pennsylvania, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains by Congress.

January 21, 1850 -- By Mr. Young: The petition of citizens of the State of Illinois, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains by Congress.

January 22, 1850 -- By Mr. Robinson: The petition of citizens of Franklin county, in the State of Indiana, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains by Congress.

January 23, 1850 -- By Mr. Harlan: Two petitions of citizens of the State of Indiana, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains by Congress.

January 28, 1850 -- By Mr. McDowell: The memorial of citizens of the State of Virginia, praying for the abolition of the office of chaplaincy of Congress; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

January 28, 1850 -- By Mr. Daniel: ...Also, the memorial of citizens of the State of North Carolina, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains by Congress; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

January 28, 1850 -- By Mr. Stanly: The memorial of citizens of Hyde county, in the State of North Carolina, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains by Congress; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

January 28, 1850 -- By Mr. Owen: The memorial of citizens of Talbot, in the State of Georgia, remonstrating against the appropriation of the public funds to pay chaplains for Congress and for the military and navy service; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

January 28, 1850 -- By Mr. Albertson: The memorial of citizens of Perry county, in the State of Indiana, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains by Congress; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

January 30, 1850 -- By Mr. Julian: ...Also, three memorials of citizens of Wayne, Henry, and Fayette counties, in the State of Indiana, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the public service of the United States.

January 31, 1850 -- By Mr. Hall: The memorial of citizens of the State of Missouri, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the public service; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

February 4, 1850 -- By Mr. Nathan Evans: The petition of citizens of Muskingum county, in the State of Ohio, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the public service of the United States; which was ordered to lie on the table.

February 7, 1850 -- By Mr. Thomas L. Harris: The memorial of citizens of the State of Illinois, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the public service of the United States.

February 7, 1850 -- By Mr. Thaddeus Stevens: The memorial of citizens of the State of Pennsylvania, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the public service of the United States; which was ordered to lie on the table.

February 8, 1850 -- By Mr. Sweetser: The petition of citizens of Union county, in the State of Ohio, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the service of the United States.

February 12, 1850 -- By Mr. Thomas L. Harris: The petition of citizens of the State of Illinois, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the public service.

February 14, 1850 -- By Mr. Richardson: The petition of citizens of Schuyler and Brown counties, in the State of Illinois, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the public service of the United States.

February 15, 1850 -- By Mr. Wilmot: The petition of citizens of the State of Pennsylvania, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the public service of the United States.

February 18, 1850 -- By Mr. Beale: The petition of citizens of the State of Virginia, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the public service of the United States.

February 20, 1850 -- By Mr. Stanly: The petition of citizens of the State of North Carolina, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the public service of the United States.

February 25, 1850 -- By Mr. Schenck: The petition of citizens of the State of Ohio, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the public service of the United States.

March 6, 1850 -- By Mr. McDonald: The memorial of citizens of the State of Indiana, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the public service of the United States; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

March 8, 1850 -- By Mr. Hammond: The petition of citizens of the State of Maryland, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the public service of the United States.

March 11, 1850 -- By Mr. Hackett: The petition of citizens of the State of Georgia, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the public service of the United States.

March 12, 1850 -- By Mr. Featherston: The petition of citizens of the State of Mississippi, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the public service of the United States.

March 13, 1850 -- By Mr. Robinson: The petition of citizens of the State of Indiana, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the public service of the United States.

December 9, 1850 -- By Mr. Clingman: The petition of citizens of Rutherford and Cleveland counties, in the State of North Carolina, praying for the abolition of the office of Chaplain to Congress; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

December 8, 1851 -- Mr. Underwood presented a petition of citizens of New Jersey, two petitions of citizens of Delaware, a petition and a memorial of citizens of Missouri, the memorial of citizens of Vermont, a petition of citizens of Indiana, two memorials of citizens of Illinois, and tyro memorials of citizens of Pennsylvania, praying that the office of Chaplain, in the public: service, may be abolished.

December 10, 1851 -- Mr. Ficklin presented the petition of Resin C. Martin and eighty-seven other persons, citizens of Illinois, protesting against the employment of chaplains by Congress at the expense of the Government, on constitutional grounds.

December 10, 1851 -- Mr. Venable presented the petition of sundry citizens of North Carolina, praying for the immediate abolition of the office of national chaplain in Congress, in the army and navy, and elsewhere.

February 5, 1852 -- By Mr. David J. Bailey: The petition of citizens of Wilkinson, in the State of Georgia, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains to Congress.

February 5, 1852 -- By Mr. Andrew Parker:The petition of citizens of the State of Pennsylvania, praying for the abolition of the whole system of national chaplaincy.

March 6, 1852 -- By Mr. Abercrombie: The petition of citizens of the State of Alabama, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains to Congress.

May 10, 1852 -- By Mr. Beale: The petition of citizens of Kanawha county, in the State of Virginia, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains to Congress; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

December 14, 1852 -- By Mr. Cleveland; The petition of citizens of the State of Connecticut, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains;

December 17, 1852 -- By Mr. George W. Jones: Sixteen petitions of citizens of the State of Tennessee, praying for the repeal of all laws authorizing chaplains in the United States.

December 20, 1852 -- By Mr. Grow: Thirteen petitions of citizens of the State of Pennsylvania, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains by the United States; which were referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

December 21, 1852 -- By Mr. Green: Three petitions of citizens of the State of Ohio, remonstrating against the employment of United States chaplains.

December 22, 1852 -- Mr. Venable presented the petition of sundry citizens of North Carolina, against the appointment of chaplains for Congress and in the army and navy of the United States; which was referred to the Committee on the judiciary.

December 22, 1852 -- Mr. Henn presented sundry petitions of citizens of Iowa and Illinois, asking that the office of chaplain may be abolished; which were referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

December 27, 1852 -- By Mr. Venable: Three petitions of citizens of the State of North Carolina, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains; which were referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

May 1, 1854 -- By Mr. Lyon: The petition of citizens of Lewis county, New York, against the employment of government chaplains;

April 20, 1854 -- By Mr. George W. Jones: Two petitions of citizens of the State of Tennessee, against the employment of chaplains in Congress, the army and navy.

March 21, 1854 -- By Mr. Bugg: The petition of citizens of the State of Tennessee, for the abolition of the office of chaplains to Congress, the army and navy; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

March 21, 1854 -- By Mr. Chastain: The petition of citizens of the State of Georgia, remonstrating against the appointment of chaplains in the army, navy, &c.; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

March 21, 1854 -- Mr. John G. Davis presented the petitions of Morris F. Hedges, and four hundred and sixty-eight others; of John Canine, and one hundred and twenty-five others; and of Yancey Lam, and ninety-seven others, citizens of Indiana, praying that the office of chaplain may be abolished wherever it exists by the authority of Congress.

December 23, 1856 -- By Mr. John V. Wright: The memorial of citizens of Tennessee, protesting against the appointment of chaplains under the government; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

December 17, 1857 -- Mr. Stuart presented a petition of citizens of Michigan, praying the abolition of the office of chaplain in the public service.

January 4, 1858 -- By Mr. Isaac N. Morris: The petition of citizens of Brown county, in the State of Illinois, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the army and navy, and elsewhere; which was laid on the table.

January 6, 1858 -- By Mr. Barksdale: The petition of citizens of Mississippi, remonstrating against the employment of chaplains in the navy and army.

December 21, 1858 -- By Mr. George W. Jones: Two memorials of citizens of the State of Texas, praying for the abolition of chaplains in the army and navy;

December 21, 1858 -- Also, the petition of citizens of the State of Tennessee, praying for the abolition of chaplains in the army and navy;

December 21, 1858 -- Also, the petition of citizens of the State of Pennsylvania, praying for the abolition of chaplains in the army and navy;

December 21, 1858 -- Also, two memorials of citizens of the State of Ohio, praying for the abolition of chaplains in the army and navy;

December 21, 1858 -- Also, two memorials of citizens of the State of New York, praying for the abolition of chaplains in the army and navy;

December 21, 1858 -- Also, three petitions of citizens of the State of Kentucky, praying for the abolition of chaplains in the army and navy;

December 21, 1858 -- Also, the petition of citizens of the State of New Jersey, praying for the abolition of chaplains in the army and navy;

December 21, 1858 -- Also, four memorials of citizens of the State of Missouri, praying for the abolition of chaplains in the army and navy;

December 21, 1858 -- Also, the petition of citizens of the State of Massachusetts, praying for the abolition of chaplains in the army and navy;

December 21, 1858 -- Also, the petition of citizens of the State of Alabama, praying for the abolition of chaplains in the army and navy;

December 21, 1858 -- Also, two memorials of citizens of the State of Illinois, praying for the abolition of chaplains in the army and navy;

December 21, 1858 -- Also, the memorial of citizens of the State of Arkansas, praying for the abolition of chaplains in the army and navy;

December 21, 1858 -- Also, the memorial of citizens of the State of Iowa, praying for the abolition of chaplains in the army and navy;

December 21, 1858 -- Also, three petitions of citizens of the State of Indiana, praying for the abolition of chaplains in the army and navy;

December 21, 1858 -- Also, the petition of citizens of the State of Florida, praying for the abolition of chaplains in the army and navy;

January 27, 1859 -- Mr. Chandler presented a memorial of citizens of Michigan, in relation to the appointment of chaplains in the public service; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

February 7, 1859 -- By Mr. Pike: The memorial of the New Hampshire Baptist State Convention, relative to the employment of chaplains in the army and navy of the United States.

February 7, 1859 -- By Mr. Leach: The petition of citizens of the State of Michigan, relative to the employment of chaplains in the army and navy of the United States.

February 28, 1859 -- By Mr. Adrain: The petition of the committee of the New Jersey Baptist State Convention, complaining of the appointment of chaplains in the navy of the United States.


Rep. Randy Forbes, the founder and chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, is also a member of the House Armed Services Committee. It was Forbes's Prayer Caucus, which now has forty-nine members, that held up the passage of the 2007 Defense Authorization Act for several weeks over the Senate's removal of a military chaplain prayer provision allowing chaplains to pray in Jesus' name at all military functions. The guidelines for Air Force chaplains were rewritten in 2005 and revised in 2006 after Mikey Weinstein exposed the religious intolerance at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. In 2006, the Navy also instituted a new policy regarding prayers at command functions. The only issue on the Legislative Issues page of Rep. Forbes's Prayer Caucus website is "Military Chaplain Prayer." Rep. Walter Jones is also a member of both the Prayer Caucus and the Armed Services Committee. In fact, Prayer Caucus members have an entirely disproportionate presence on the House Armed Services Committee -- exactly double their presence in the House as a whole in the new Congress.


1. George Washington to the President of Congress, June 8, 1777, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799, vol. 8, (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1933), 203.

2. Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, vol. 50, 35th Cong., 2nd Sess., (Washington: William A. Harris, 1858-59), 53.

3. Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, vol. 55, 35th Cong., 2nd Sess., (Washington: James B. Steedman, 1858), 178.

4. George P. Sanger, ed., The Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations of the United States of America, vol. 12, 36th Cong., 2nd Sess., (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1863), 24.

5. ibid., 37th Cong., 1st Sess., 288.

6. ibid., 270.

7. Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, vol. 5, 25th Cong., 2nd Sess., (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1856), 259.

8. George P. Sanger, ed., The Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations of the United States of America, vol. 12, 37th Cong., 2nd Sess., (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1863), 595.

9. The Congressional Globe, 30th Cong., 2nd Sess., December 13, 1848, 21.

10. Richard Peters, ed., Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, vol. 2, (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1845), 45.

11. Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, vol. 54, 35th Cong., 1st Sess., (Washington: James B. Steedman, 1857 [sic]), 792.

12. Rev. W.A. Scott, D.D., The Bible and Politics: Or, An Humble Plea for Equal, Perfect, Absolute Religious Freedom, and Against All Sectarianism in Our Public Schools, (San Francisco: H.H. Bancroft & Co., 1859), 76-78.

13. Rev. William L. Harris, ed., Journal of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Held in Chicago, Ill., 1868, (New York: Carlton & Lanahan, 1868), 630-632.

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