Redefining Chaplains

The decline of journalistic intellectual rigor has been widely debated, but there is perhaps no more compelling case to be made than this week’s editorial board opinion in the Richmond Times-Dispatch applauding Governor McAuliffe’s veto of legislation protecting the religious freedom of National Guard Chaplains.  This poorly reasoned opinion fails not just the basic tenets of Journalism 101, a reporter must know the facts, it also defies logic.  But let’s first explore the facts:

First, what is a chaplain?  According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a Chaplain is defined as “a priest or other Christian religious leader who performs religious services for a military group (such as the army) or for a prison, hospital etc.”  Additional definitions include “a clergyman officially attached to a branch of the military, to an institution, or to a family or court.” And “a person chosen to conduct religious exercises.”  Notwithstanding the definition, the armed services permits chaplains of different faiths to ensure that the religious preferences of our troops are met. 

To claim, as the Times-Dispatch does, that “…chaplains of any sort should be able to pray and preach however they like---outside their occupational duties...” defies logic.  A chaplain, by definition exists to provide a religious outlet for our troops within the National Guard.  Their occupational duty is to pray and preach!

Second, what did Senate Bill 555 actually do?  It provides that “…the religious content of sermons made by chaplains of the Virginia National Guard…shall not be censored or restricted by any state government official or agency, so long as such content does not urge disobedience of lawful orders.”  The bill is clearly drafted to protect sermons provided by chaplains.  Yet the Times-Dispatch describes the bill as permitting “National Guard chaplains make sectarian prayers” and compares the bill to “…a city council open[ing] a session with an explicitly Christian or Muslim invocation….”  The Times-Dispatch opinion is so shoddy it did not even take the time to fully understand the underlying bill and conflates two separate issues, public prayer at a government meeting and religious services.  If the Times-Dispatch had actually read the bill and then taken the time to make a few phone calls, as The Family Foundation did, they would have learned that guardsmen are not compelled to attend sermons led by chaplains.  It is purely voluntary.  So the guardsmen are not “captive audiences” who are subjected to “compelled religious observance.”    

By supporting Governor McAuliffe’s veto of Senate Bill 555, the Times-Dispatch admits that it is horrified at the thought of a chaplain sharing his religious views with others.  The Editorial Board believes it is appropriate for government to censure religious speech.  The Times-Dispatch editorial board apparently needs a refresher on the Bill of Rights which guarantees the free exercise of religion of all Americans, including chaplains, without government interference.  Perhaps if the Times-Dispatch was intellectually honest they would confess their belief that the military and National Guard should not have chaplains at all, rather than make poorly reasoned arguments regarding the appropriate role of chaplains in the military.

The Times-Dispatch editorial board opinion writing has grown ever more embarrassing in recent years, with this most recent editorial a prime example.  Long gone are the days of intellectual depth and compelling reason that once graced its pages.  Now, RTD’s editorials spew ACLU talking points and name-call.  Embarrassing indeed.