Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder may soon lose his job as a chaplain assigned to the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command because of the way he expressed his beliefs on homosexuality and premarital sex to sailors and students. Last month, he was issued a “detachment for cause” letter indicating that “his conduct warrants his removal.” He’s now fighting for his job, arguing that he was simply expressing his religious beliefs.
The question is whether the way he expressed those beliefs violated his agreement with the Navy. Modder, who is endorsed by the Pentecostal Assemblies of God, allegedly imposed his beliefs on sailors on multiple occasions. The complaint against him, which stems from multiple sources, outlines the following examples:
- He told a student that she was “shaming herself in the eyes of god” for having premarital sex.
- He told another student that homosexuality was wrong.
- He told a student that “the penis was meant for the vagina and not for the anus,” while making an inappropriate hand gesture.
- He insinuated that he had the ability to “save” gay people.
- He asked a staff member about her sexual conduct and then told her that she should be in love with God and not her partner.
- He berated a pregnant student for becoming pregnant while not married.
The complaint also suggests that Modder made false official statements denying what he had said to sailors and that he indicated he would not follow Navy policy if it conflicts with his faith. Guidelines dictate that chaplains be willing “to function in a pluralistic environment” and “to support directly and indirectly the free exercise of religion” of all individuals they might minister to.
The anti-LGBT Liberty Institute is now representing Modder. They argue that it’s “unlawful” for the Navy to take “adverse action against a chaplain based on his faith,” and that he was simply “offering spiritual guidance in accordance with his faith.” The Family Research Council, an anti-LGBT hate group, has also taken up Modder’s cause, organizing a petition pleading that Modder “should be free to counsel according to his biblical faith on the issues of sexuality, morality, and any other issue.”
But Eugene Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School, thinks it’s clear that Modder is rightfully being held accountable for the way he expressed his beliefs. “He was way out of line,” Fidell told ThinkProgress. “For faith groups whose creed cannot be reconciled with the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ the chaplains have to make a choice. If they can’t resolve the conflict, they have to leave.”
Similar conflicts have already been playing out in the nearly three years since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” took effect. Both the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Catholic Archdiocese for Military Services have issued guidelines forbidding their chaplains from ministering to same-sex couples. In one case, this led to a married same-sex couple in California being told they could not participate in a marriage enrichment program with other military couples because there were no chaplains at Fort Irwin who could minister to them.
Navy Chaplain Corps spokeswoman Christianne Witten told the Military Times that Modder has been temporarily reassigned while officials review his case. “The Navy values, and protects in policy, the rights of its service members, including chaplains, to practice according to the tenets of their faith and respects the rights of each individual to determine their own religious convictions,” Witten said.