By now it’s likely you’ve heard about the intense drama going down at the Navy Nuclear Nuclear Power Training Center involving Lt. Commander (Chaplain) Wesley Modder and his Commanding Officer, Navy Captain Jon Fahs. A quick summary is that Chaplain Modder has been accused of making inappropriate comments and of being intolerant, to wit: telling students that homosexuality is wrong; shaming and berating female students for having unmarried sex and becoming pregnant out of wedlock; asking a female staff member about her sexual activities; and discriminating against students of different faiths and backgrounds than his own. He is facing potentially career-ending administrative action from the United States Navy. The Navy has also issued a “No Contact Order,” preventing Chaplain Modder from officiating at the funeral of a recently deceased sailor from a prior unit where the chaplain had served.
Chaplain Modder claims that it is he who is the REAL victim in this scenario, and that he has been, among other things, apparently set up by a junior officer who happens to be gay.
Oh, Chaplain Modder, I hardly find YOU to be the aggrieved party here, sir.
The usual extreme right-wing fundamentalist Christian organizations like the Family “Research” Council (ever wonder what exactly it is that they ever “research”?) and the “Liberty” Institute (whose “liberty" you might fairly ask?) have made Chaplain Modder the current poster child of faux, pernicious Christian persecution in “Obama’s military,” and are fast closing in on 100,000 signatures on an e-petition of their religiously intolerant faithful to convince the Navy to back off of poor picked-on Chaplain Modder. Fortunately, it matters little if they eventually get even 100 MILLION signatures. As Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once so sagaciously opined, “In America, we don’t count heads before enforcing the First Amendment."
I have received many, many press inquiries about this matter. I even gave an interview to Voice of America the other day about it and they told me that the interview would be translated into Chinese and broadcast via shortwave radio all over Asia. Clearly, there is great interest in this “Matter of Modder.”
So, what’s the real bottom line here? Let me please lay it out as simply and briefly as possible.
Essentially, Modder and his rapacious, fundamentalist Christian allies are basking in the selfishly manufactured glow of completely and deliberately imagined “persecution.” He (and they) disingenuously claim that Modder is being unjustly barbecued by the Navy because he has sincerely held religious beliefs about LGB folks, and women, and premarital sex, etc., which are also integrally part and parcel of the required dictates of his Chaplain endorsing agency, the Pentecostal Assemblies of God, and are therefore sacrosanct and fully protected under Federal law. They claim he was merely calling on those beliefs whilst privately counseling needy subordinate sailors. He’s thus not being properly “accommodated” for his beliefs and is universally blameless, and the Navy is crucifying him (pun intended) for no reason other than his personal Christian beliefs about gay and women folk, etc.
And of course the Navy has a long and well-documented history of persecuting Christians, don’t ya know? Umm, actually, we DON’T know that at all.
Here’s why Modder and his swelling gang of Christian supremacist supporters are WRONG: it’s quite fine for Navy Chaplain Modder and any other member of the United States military to “believe” that no one is “born gay,” or that being gay is a “choice,” and a sinful choice, at that; it’s likewise fine for military members to “believe” that Jews, Hispanics and African American people are inferior, and that women have no place in the military. Indeed, “belief” is one thing, but “behavior” spawned from that belief is quite another. While prejudice is internal to its believer, bigotry is the BEHAVIOR of actually ACTING upon that internal prejudice, and it is THAT which is simply NOT allowed under Federal law. Modder is NOT being singled out or persecuted for his disgustingly homophobic and chauvinistic BELIEFS at all! He’s being justly punished by the Navy for ACTING on those Federally outlawed beliefs. The Navy is not required to, nor WILL it, “accommodate” such opprobrious and unlawful behavior from ANY of its personnel.
Now listen carefully to me please; Chaplain Modder has EVERY right under American law to hold those prejudiced beliefs, but he has ZERO rights to expect the American taxpayer to PAY him for exhibiting those bigoted behaviors which often go hand-in-hand with such horrid hatred, which all-too-frequently cannot be constrained and thus openly springs from those prejudiced beliefs.
Irrespective of the unbridled squeals and screams of bloody protest from the fundamentalist, religious-extremist, para-church syndicates mentioned above – and their millions of dull-minded Dominionist Christian followers, roadies and donors – the Navy is not, repeat NOT, coming down on Modder for his bare BELIEFS, but because of his ACTIONS concomitant with those beliefs. Do you see this difference, and do you understand how it matters enormously?
Modder and his supporters claim (and are desperate for the world to believe) that he is being denied his Constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech and freedom of religion under the First Amendment. After all, EVERYone who is an American citizen gets those precious rights, no?
“NO,” in direct point of fact, IS the correct answer here, folks. Look, when you put on the uniform of a Sailor, Soldier, Marine or Airman and join the armed forces of the United States of America you are, 1) doing an incredibly sacrificial and honorable deed and, 2) just as importantly, voluntarily giving up MANY of the Constitutional rights of your civilian peers. What? Come again? Why is that the case?
The United States military is an almost indescribably specialized world within a world. As our Federal courts have long opined, the American military is hyper-tribal, adversarial, communal and ritualistic. It has its own criminal justice system, known as the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). It even has its own list of felonies under that special UCMJ code. For instance, adultery – that’s right, ADULTERY – can be (and often is) considered tantamount to a felony-level offense under the UCMJ. So are a literal plethora of other offenses that would never even get a wrist slap in the civilian world. Why is that? The answer is simple and logical. Our military members willingly forfeit many of their Constitutional rights to enable the maximization of that which it needs and craves most to optimally protect the full panoply of Constitutional rights for the rest of us and the national security interests of the United States; namely, mission readiness, unit cohesion, good order, morale and discipline.
Our Federal laws proclaim – and our U.S. Supreme Court has consistently so construed – those laws to hold that America’s “compelling governmental interest” in how the military manages itself is ALL about one thing: the provision of the highest magnitude of the aforementioned good order, morale and discipline. Forty-one years ago, way back in 1974, noted über-conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist penned the majority opinion (6 to 2) in the ONE case SO on-point in the "Modder Matter" that you will NEVER see him, or his despotically fundamentalist Christian lunatic backers, EVER be able to refute it: Parker vs. Levy (417 U.S. 733). Just take a quick look at what Rehnquist said in his ruling, which is still the unchallenged law of the land on these matters to this very day:
"This Court has long recognized that the military is, by necessity, a specialized society separate from civilian society. We have also recognized that the military has, again by necessity, developed laws and traditions of its own during its long history. The differences between the military and civilian communities result from the fact that ‘it is the primary business of armies and navies to fight or be ready to fight wars should the occasion arise.’ ... An army is not a deliberative body. It is the executive arm. Its law is that of obedience. No question can be left open as to the right to command in the officer or the duty of obedience in the soldier. ... While the members of the military are not excluded from the protection granted by the First Amendment, the different character of the military community and of the military mission requires a different application of those protections. The fundamental necessity for obedience, and the consequent necessity for imposition of discipline, may render permissible within the military that which would be constitutionally impermissible outside it. ... In the armed forces, some restrictions exist for reasons that have no counterpart in the civilian community. Disrespectful and contemptuous speech, even advocacy of violent change, is tolerable in the civilian community, for it does not directly affect the capacity of the Government to discharge its responsibilities unless it both is directed to inciting imminent lawless action and is likely to produce such action. In military life, however, other considerations must be weighed. The armed forces depend on a command structure that, at times must commit men to combat, not only hazarding their lives but also ultimately involving the security of the Nation itself. Speech that is protected in the civil population may nonetheless undermine the effectiveness of response to command. If it does, it is constitutionally unprotected.”
Thus, what does all of this have to do with Modder? Well, it means he sucks. He’s a destroyer of the very bones, blood, sinew and muscle that the Navy needs to effectively function. The United States Navy has officially investigated and determined that he is nothing more than a common bigot and that his bigoted BEHAVIOR is clearly deleterious to the most basic and essential military necessity of ensuring optimal unit cohesion, good order, morale, discipline and mission readiness. Thus, Navy Chaplain Modder’s ACTIONS of hatred, and NOT his mere internal and otherwise Constitutionally-protected prejudiced “beliefs” of same, provide the pristine justification for the punishment meted out to him by the United States Navy.
Modder’s commander, Capt. Jon Fahs, has shown all-too-rare courage and integrity in carrying out this disgraceful officer's behavioral sanctions. In fact, I believe Capt. Fahs has displayed formidable restraint in not yet forcing Modder to defend himself against criminal charges in a well-deserved General Court-Martial.
So, then, in the end, what IS the “Matter With Modder?”
The answer is, “nothing.”
Nothing the United States Navy can’t handle by providing visible and public punishment to a hate-spewing bigot who has intentionally savaged the cherished unit cohesion, good order, morale and discipline of his fellow sailors.
Good riddance, Chaplain Hater.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at helpbuildthewall.org.
Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the 7-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the "Iran-Contra" Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of "With God On Our Side" (2006, St. Martin's Press) and "No Snowflake in an Avalanche" (2012, Vireo).