Evangelicals are charging that a pattern of discrimination has gone unchecked for too long in the Navy, and they are now taking their case to court.
The Washington Post (April 9) reports that both in the Navy and the Marines, evangelicals find they are less represented in the chaplaincy and that their chaplains are criticized and passed up for promotions. Last month, 11 chaplains in a class action lawsuit charged the Navy with such discrimination, specifically alleging that the navy brass in effect run a “religious patronage system” favoring what the plaintiffs call the “High Church” denominations, such as Catholic and mainline Protestant.
Navy officials may deny that there is a quota system, but they don’t dispute the statistics. In what is unofficially is called “the thirds policy,” the choice of chaplains usually goes to one-third Catholic, one-third mainline Protestant and one-third everyone else.
Of the 871 Navy chaplains, 34 percent are mainline Protestant, although only just nine percent of sailors and Marines identified themselves as such in a 1998 survey. A 1995 report by the chaplains of the Marine Corps found that in the 15 years under study, only 14 evangelical chaplains had been chosen for the top 119 leadership spots. Writer Hanna Rosin notes that while it might appear that the military and evangelicals would be very compatible, with both tending to be conservative, pro-family and patriotic, a significant “cultural clash” has developed.
“The new lifestyle-conscious military is careful to respect tolerance, diversity and ethnicity, slogans borrowed from the cultural left…The one thing it won’t tolerate is intolerance.” That’s where the point of conflict is the strongest with the evangelicals. They maintain that they are still called to preach a Christian message, even if religious plurlaism dictates that they have to accomodate different faiths. When one evangelical chaplain hinted in his sermons that some sailors were risking damnation by not accepting Christ, he was called “non-pluralistic” and “fundamentalist” by his superiors.