Another day, another phony outrage from the Religious Right. This time, the Family Research Council (FRC) and the American Family Association (AFA) are claiming that a U.S. Army chaplain was punished for simply sharing his faith at an official event. But as usual, these fundamentalists aren’t telling the whole story.
Last month, Chaplain Joseph Lawhorn, a captain and the official chaplain of the 5th Ranger Training Battalion, conducted a session on suicide prevention at Fort Benning in Georgia. Attendance at the event was mandatory, giving Lawhorn a large, captive audience.
FRC Executive Vice President William G. “Jerry” Boykin, a retired army general, claimed that Lawhorn “gave a presentation describing resources - both spiritual and secular - that were available for handling such grave mental health situations…” but “[a]s a result of the chaplain’s discussion of his faith, he was called into his brigade commander’s office on Thanksgiving Day.”
Boykin is the kind of person who tends to get himself in trouble whenever he speaks. Earlier this year, he received a harsh reprimand from the Pentagon for revealing classified information in his 2008 book Never Surrender: A Soldier’s Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom. He also tends to say some pretty nasty things about Islam.
Now it seems Boykin has stepped in it once again since Lawhorn did a lot more than just have a “discussion of his faith.”
According to the Army Times, Lawhorn engaged in full-on Christian proselytizing, handing out pamphlets that prescribed biblical treatments for depression. Such actions at a mandatory meeting are a major First Amendment issue, and Lawhorn’s superiors rightly took this matter seriously and acted swiftly.
In Lawhorn’s official letter of reprimand from Col. David Fivecoat, who oversees Lawhorn’s unit, the chaplain was “perceived to advocate Christianity and used Christian scripture and solutions. [He] provided a two-sided handout that listed Army resources on one side and a biblical approach to handling depression on the other side. This made it impossible for those in attendance to receive the resource information without also receiving the biblical information.”