THE BLOG
06/14/2011 02:17 pm ET | Updated Aug 14, 2011

At Last: Military Outsourcing We Can All Support

Finally, military outsourcing we can approve. It appears the Army is looking for a few good sky pilots. And by that I don't mean someone to pilot Apache helicopters. Although it may come as a shock to both the Republican and Tea parties, apparently providing religious services to troops is not an 'inherently governmental' function.

Back in May the Army Contracting Command issued a solicitation in Federal Business Opportunities for Catholic Chaplain Services.

Evidently, during July 1 to September 30 a few good padres are needed to provide, among other things:

Sunday Mass/Holy Day of Obligation 13
Weekday Mass 58
Confessions 8

I think this is a good first step, but it can be taken so much further. But first, allow me a digression.

Back when I was in the Navy one ship I served on had a chaplain aboard. He was a Catholic priest but like all military chaplains he was prepared, at least theoretically, to minister to sailors all faiths. While I am sure he was sincere about that and did his best the truth is that when it came to Jews he wouldn't have known a mitzvah from a minyan.

I can't say I blame him; there weren't many of us. Back then the military was, of course, majority Christian. Today, even more so; albeit dominated by conservative Christians

On another ship I was the only Jew aboard. The Navy, in its infinite wisdom decided that would be the time to appoint me Jewish lay leader. That, for all practical purposes, meant I could minister to myself, which made for interesting High Holiday services. I may very well have been the only sailor in the history of the 7th Fleet who, while at sea, received for Passover a bottle of Manischewitz wine, normally strictly against regulations, courtesy of the Department of the Navy.

Anyway, one of the supposed strengths of contracting is that it can provide scarce capabilities for a relatively small market. Normally the laws of supply and demand dictate that there has to be a certain minimum number of customers before a supplier steps in. That would explain why the chaplain corps doesn't have Wiccan high priests or shamans. Although I understand there is more people of those faiths than there used to be; perhaps, for them, the military has a "don't pray, don't tell" policy.

Although to give the Army credit it has, for over thirty years, been prepared to help guide its chaplains when dealing with a soldier of a non-traditional faith. In 1978 it published the book "Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains." The 2001 version contains an excellent description of Wicca.

Anyway, this is most likely the one area where private military contracting advocates can truthfully claim that outsourcing is cost-effective. It seems unlikely in the extreme that the Department of Defense will bear the cost of training up and keeping on active duty someone to minister to various pagans or atheists or agnostics.

But with private military contracting the Pentagon can miraculously be all that it can be. In the best spirit of multi-religious, or irreligious, pluralism the Department of Defense will be able to accommodate everyone. Rastafarians, especially for the sacred Feb. 6 Bob Marley holiday; Jewish Satmars; Pagans; Bahá'í; Hare Krishna Hindus; Sufi, Falun Gong Buddhists; Animists, et cetera will all have their spiritual needs accommodated.

Plus, when we let the private, rather than the public sector, provide for people's theological needs we are on much sounder constitutional ground. Remember that little thing called the First Amendment which prohibits the federal, state or municipal establishment of an official religion or other preference for one religion over another, non-religion over religion, or religion over non-religion.

To paraphrase the old Miller Lite commercial, having PSCs (Private Spiritual Contractors) is spiritually great and economically less filling. What's not to like?