A conservative legal firm is accusing the Navy of violating federal law by refusing to grant a chaplain's request for religious accommodation, as he faces the potential threat of termination following a series of controversial proclamations that sailors claim he made during private counseling sessions.
Lt. Cmdr. Wes Modder, a decorated military chaplain who was once assigned to serve elite Navy SEALs, is being threatened with "career-ending punishment because he expressed faith-based beliefs in private counseling sessions with sailors," the Liberty Institute alleges.
As TheBlaze previously reported, Modder's problems began after a handful of sailors complained about him late last year. He had been serving at the Navy Nuclear Power Training Command in Goose Creek, South Carolina, since April 2014, before recently being reassigned while the Navy investigates the claims waged against him.
Modder is accused of speaking out against homosexuality, of telling a woman who had premarital sex that she was “shaming herself in the eyes of God," and of purportedly berating a pregnant student who was not married, among other claims.
On March 16, the Navy rejected Modder's claim that he was being targeted due to his faith and that his claims behind closed doors were religiously protected free speech, according to conservative commentator Todd Starnes.
"In your case, I find that your ability to express your religious beliefs during pastoral counseling has not been restricted or substantially burdened," Commanding Officer J.R. Fahs wrote to Modder. "Your inability to comfort and counsel in a manner that was respectful of the counselee while maintaining dignity and professionalism … led to you being relieved of your duties."
The Liberty Institute plans to appeal the decision in support of Modder, who is endorsed by the Assemblies of God denomination. The legal firm claims that by forcing Modder to compromise his beliefs and standards the "Navy is violating the Constitution, federal law, and Department of Defense regulations."
Michael Berry, senior counsel and director of military affairs for Liberty Institute, told TheBlaze last week that many of these accusations made by the handful of sailors are not accurate or complete.
But, since the counseling sessions between Modder and the sailors were confidential, it’s really a game of he said, she said at this juncture.
“We specifically and categorically deny any accusation that he engaged in inappropriate language and conduct,” Berry said, claiming that the accusations are misrepresenting what was said during those private exchanges. “I went through word-for-word every allegation in the investigation and we discussed every incident in detail.”
See a portion of the letter sent by Fahs below:
Berry also told TheBlaze that he found it curious that Modder, who has been working for nearly two decades in the chaplaincy, was praised in a professional review signed on Oct. 31, 2014, as the “best of the best” and a ”consummate professional leader ” who greatly exceeded standards in the vast majority of categories — but just weeks later, he found himself in the cross-hairs.
Starnes also reported that Modder's problems began after a married gay officer was assigned to assist him. After about a month of working with the chaplain, the young officer reportedly began asking questions about homosexuality, subsequently filing a five-page complaint against Modder over disagreements with his stances on the issue.
Berry said in a statement issued on Wednesday that the Navy is relying upon "outdated, obsolete policies to deny a chaplain his rights."
"The Navy appears to be rebelling against the new DOD regulations and thumbing its nose at Congress and the Secretary of Defense," he said. "That is totally unacceptable."