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The Chaplain Corps of the United States Navy consists of ordained clergy who are commissioned naval officers. Their principal purpose is to "promote the spiritual, religious, moral, and personal well-being of the members of the Department of the Navy," which includes the Navy and the United States Marine Corps. Additionally, the Chaplain Corps provides chaplains to its sister sea service, the United States Coast Guard.
They share in the difficulties and rewards of Navy life. The Chaplain Corps consists of clergy endorsed from ecclesiastical bodies, providing assistance for all Navy, Marine Corps, Merchant Marine, and Coast Guard personnel and their families. Navy Chaplains come from a variety of religious backgrounds; chaplains are Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist.
The Continental Navy, predecessor of the United States Navy, was approved by the United States Congress on October 13, 1775. It was administered by a Marine Committee of three members later expanded to seven members. The Navy Regulations adopted by the Marine Committee on November 28, 1775 mirrored those of the Royal Navy.
The second article of the Navy regulations of 1775 read: "The Commanders of the ships of the thirteen United Colonies, are to take care that divine service be performed twice a day on board, and a sermon preached on Sundays, unless bad weather or other extraordinary accidents prevent." Although the chaplain is not mentioned in this article, the reference to a sermon implies that Congress intended that an ordained clergyman be on board. The first mention of a chaplain in the Journals of the Continental Congress refers to his share in the distribution of prize money. On January 6, 1776 Congress passed a resolution detailing the prize share percentages and includes distribution of a portion to the chaplain. On November 15, 1776, Congress fixed the base pay of the chaplain at $20 a month. The first chaplain known to have served in the Continental Navy was the Reverend Benjamin Balch, a Congregational minister, whose father had served in a similar capacity in the Royal Navy. Benjamin Balch's son, William Balch, is the first chaplain known to have received a commission in the US Navy after the department was established in 1798.
The Naval Chaplaincy School and Center (NCSC) is part of the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Center (AFCC), which also includes the US Army Chaplain Center and School (USACHCS) and the US Air Force Chaplain Service Institute (AFCSI). The 3 schools are co-located at Fort Jackson, in Columbia, SC. NCSC's first graduating class — consisting of 29 chaplains and chaplain candidates — graduated on Nov. 6, 2009. NCSC is the successor of the Naval Chaplains School, which relocated in mid-August 2009 from Newport RI due to the 2005 decision of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission to put all military ministry training at the same location. NCSC's new name reflects its new mission of training Navy chaplains and Religious Program Specialist (RPs) in the same place. Until recently, RPs have been trained at NTTC Meridian, MS.
The AFCC is designed to foster closer cooperation between the 3 Chaplain Corps and to facilitate shared instruction and training.
The Navy accepts clergy from religious denominations and faith groups. Clergy must be endorsed by an approved endorsing agency. Once endorsed, the clergy person must meet requirements established by the Department of the Navy including age and physical fitness requirements. A chaplain's ecclesiastical endorsement can be withdrawn by the endorser at any time, after which the chaplain is no longer be able to serve as a chaplain.
Qualified applicants must be US citizens at least 21 years old; meet certain medical and physical fitness standards; hold a bachelor's degree, with no less than 120 semester hours from a qualified educational institution; and hold a post-baccalaureate graduate degree, which includes 72 semester hours of graduate-level coursework in theological or related studies. At least one-half of these hours must include topics in general religion, theology, religious philosophy, ethics, and/or the foundational writings from one’s religious tradition. Accredited distance education graduate programs are acceptable.
Chaplains then attend the Navy Chaplain School at Ft Jackson, South Carolina at the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Center (AFCC).
The Navy has a "Chaplain Candidate Program Officer" (CCPO) Program for seminary students interested in obtaining a commission before completing their graduate studies.
The mission of the Chaplain Corps is:
The guiding principles are:
Mission-ready Sailors, Marines and their families, demonstrating spiritual, moral and ethical maturity, supported by the innovative delivery of religious ministry and compassionate pastoral care.
The Chaplain Corps has been responsive to the diverse ministry requirements of Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Merchant Marines and all their family members since its inception over two centuries ago. Throughout its history the corps has experienced several controversies.
Some contemporary controversies include the filing of class-action lawsuits by "non-liturgical" active and former active-duty Protestant chaplains alleging religious discrimination. These chaplains argued that the Navy allegedly employed a quota system which caused "non-liturgical" Protestant chaplains to be underrepresented through the current career promotion established by the Department of the Navy. .
In September 2006, LT Gordon Klingenschmitt was reprimanded and fined $3,000 for disobeying an order not to wear his military uniform at a protest. Eventually, he faced a court martial over the issue of praying "in Jesus name" in his uniform in public. Klingenschmitt was honorably discharged from the Navy in March 2007. The chaplain disagreed with a policy that required him to offer non-sectarian prayers at Navy command functions (essentially public, military-wide and often mandatory). Congress later rescinded the policy which was enforced at Klingenschmitt's trial, but did not rescind Klingenschmitt's discharge from the Navy, which meant that Klingenschmitt was discharged after only 16 years of service, four years short of the 20 that he needed for retirement. The Navy no longer requires chaplains give only non-sectarian prayers at command functions. The Navy doesn't prohibit chaplains from preaching in a sectarian manner in worship settings.
In the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Accommodating Faith in the Military (dated July 3, 2008) states: "That precise question has been raised in a series of cases, going back a decade, over the way that the Navy selects chaplains. These lawsuits allege that the Navy has hired chaplains using a "thirds policy," a formula dividing its chaplains into thirds: one-third consisting of liturgical Protestant denominations (such as such as Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians and Presbyterians); another third consisting of Catholics; and a last third consisting of non-liturgical Protestant denominations (such as Baptists, evangelicals, Bible churches, Pentecostals and charismatics) and other faiths. The lawsuits claim that the Navy's criteria are unconstitutional because they disfavor non-liturgical Protestants, who make up a great deal more than one-third of the Navy, while Catholics and liturgical Protestants each make up less than one-third.
In April 2007, a US District Court in Washington DC, rejected one of these challenges to the Navy’s chaplain-selection criteria. The court held that the Navy had abandoned the thirds policy and said that its current criteria were constitutional because the Navy has broad discretion to determine how to accommodate the religious needs of its service members. This decision was affirmed in 2008 by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
In June 2009, the Navy's Inspector General found that the Deputy Chief of Chaplains, RDML Alan Baker, took actions which "reprised against" his former Executive Assistant during a promotion board in 2008 and was subsequently not recommended for his second star and selection to Chief of Chaplains by the CNO. This determination found that Adm Baker improperly influenced a Captain (06) promotion board in a negative manner. Chaplain Baker retired in September 2009. The current Chief of Chaplains for the Navy is RADM Mark Tidd.
Grant me, oh Lord, for the coming events; Enough knowledge to cope and some plain common sense. Be at our side on those nightly patrols; And be merciful judging our vulnerable souls. Make my hands steady and as sure as a rock; when the others go down with a wound or in shock. Let me be close, when they bleed in the mud; With a tourniquet handy to save precious blood. Here in the jungle, the enemy near; Even the corpsman can't offer much lightness and cheer. Just help me, oh Lord, to save lives when I can; Because even out there is merit in man.
If it's Your will, make casualties light; And don't let any die in the murderous night. These are my friends I'm trying to save; They are frightened at times, but You know they are brave. Let me not fail when they need so much; But to help me serve with a compassionate touch. Lord, I'm no hero—my job is to heal; And I want You to know Just how helpless I feel. Bring us back safely to camp with dawn; For too many of us are already gone. Lord bless my friends If that's part of your plan; And go with us tonight, when we go out again."
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