Army Chaplain Disciplined for Using Scripture

Dave Jolly | January 1, 2015

Army Rangers are an elite group of trained military personnel. Many soldiers apply for Ranger training but few are chosen and fewer still complete the grueling training required to be called an Army Ranger.

Captain Joe Lawhorn is one of those few, but he’s not just an Army Ranger, he’s also a military chaplain. Part of his duty as chaplain is to conduct suicide prevention classes for military personnel. On November 20, he was teaching such a class for the 5th Ranger Training Battalion at the University of North Georgia.

During the class, he shared his own battle with depression which can often lead to thoughts of suicide. Lawhorn told the class that following the example of King David in the Bible helped him conquer his own depression while serving as a Ranger. He then handed out a sheet that had a number of helpful resources that included some biblical references.

After the class, Col. David Fivecoat, Commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade at Ft. Benning, Georgia called Lawhorn into his office and gave him a written Letter of Concern about using Scripture and advocating one system of beliefs over another. Fivecoat told Lawhorn:

“You 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.”

In an interview with The Daily Signal, Lawhorn explained his actions:

“What I had tried to communicate with my audience is that depression can be conquered, depression can be overcome, and there are a myriad of ways of dealing with depression.”

“In this particular case, I had struggled myself personally with the issue at hand I was teaching.”

“It was my faith that helped me to persevere and remain resilient in the face of depression.”

What promoted the letter of warning was a complaint filed by one soldier in the class. That soldier filed his/her complaint with the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.

The question is whether Lawhorn violated any military rules of conduct by using Scripture in his teaching. According to Ron Crews, the endorsing agent for military chaplains for Grace Churches International, Lawhorn was justifiably carrying out his duty as a military chaplain. He stated:

“The chaplain did nothing wrong. At no time did he say his was the only or even the preferred way of dealing with depression. And at no time did he deny the validity of any other method.”

“His story involves his faith journey. He was simply being a great Army chaplain – in ministering to his troops and providing first-hand how he has dealt with depression in the past. That’s what chaplains do. They bare their souls for their soldiers in order to help them with crises they may be going through.” 

Support from Lawhorn has been mounting. Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) sent a letter to Col. Fivecoat saying that Lawhorn is protected from such reprimands by the Army’s Equal Opportunity policy. The letter read in part:

“I find it counterintuitive to have someone lead a suicide prevention course but prohibit them from providing their personal testimony.”

“I fear Chaplain Lawhorn’s freedom of expression was improperly singled out.”

Michael Berry, an attorney with the Liberty Institute has also come to the aid of Capt. Lawhorn and is asking the Army to rescind the Letter of Concern that has been filed against the chaplain. Berry stated:

“It took a great amount of courage for Chaplain Lawhorn to discuss his own personal battle with depression. At no time did he consider himself to be in a ‘preacher’ role.”

“Not only is it lawful for a chaplain to talk about matters of faith and spirituality and religion in a suicide prevention training class – but the Army policy encourages discussion of matters of faith and spiritual wellness. The fact that one person in the class was offended changes nothing.”

“His job is to save lives — and he’s being punished for trying to do his job. He’s doing everything he can to save them – and yet now they’re trying to say – the way you’re doing it offends me.”

Col. Fivecoat’s reprimand or warning was that Lawhorn was promoting one set of belief over another. What is an ordained Christian chaplain supposed to do if he can’t promote Christianity? Would a Muslim chaplain receive the same letter of warning for using Islamic lessons in his teaching? Somehow I don’t think so.

This whole thing boils down to the complete intolerance of one unbeliever. Rather than just ignoring the biblical references, they have to make it into a federal case. Yet I bet that this unbeliever promotes tolerance, but that tolerance is a one way street. They want others to be tolerant of their unbelief while they are completely intolerant to the belief of others.

This is true with most liberals who complain. Gay activists preach tolerance but they are the first to complain about others who don’t share their views. Black activists preach tolerance yet they are the ones marching in streets all over America calling for the execution of white cops. Muslims in America claim to be tolerant of others and just want to be accepted, but they are quick to rule by sharia law which is intolerant against everything non-Islamic.

I hope and pray that the efforts of the Liberty Institute are successful and the Letter of Concern against Capt. Lawhorn is rescinded and his record cleared. If anything, a Letter of Concern needs to be filed against Col. Fivecoat for violating Lawhorn’s constitutional rights.