Accommodating Religious Pluralism in the Military

Source: Chicago Tribune

On July 6, 1999, the Chicago Tribune published an article
on the difficulties experienced by the military in handling freedom
of religious exercise for military personnel. Encountering
problems with accommodating Muslims, Sikhs, and Wiccans, the military
has to follow a newly issued directive on the accommodation of
religious practices (the first since 1988), that widens the scope of
acceptable exemptions. Under the new guidelines, the Pentagon will
handle exemptions on an individual basis – a commanding officer can
grant these requests if they do not undermine military readiness,
discipline, safety or a unit’s mission. A major challenge to the
military in providing adequate religious services is the changing
role of the military chaplains. Capt. Russell Gunter, a Navy chaplain
who is executive director of the Armed Forces Chaplain Board at the
Pentagon, stated: “Chaplains are expected to accommodate the
religious exercise of everyone in the military regardless of whether
they agree with the theology of that faith group.” Jack Williamson,
the coordinator of the National Conference on Ministry in the Armed
Force in Arlington, Virginia, stated: “In the military it is not
uncommon to have a Roman Catholic priest, a rabbi, a Pentecostal
preacher and Lutheran pastor all housed in the same facility with
offices next door to each other and seeing the same people.” Adding
to the problem is that certain chaplaincies, particularly Catholic,
are in short supply. Of the incoming military personnel who do claim
a religious preference, roughly 53% are members of a particular
Protestant denomination, 32% are Roman Catholic, and 13% are Christian of no
denomination. The remaining 2% claim Eastern Orthodox traditions,
Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other faiths.