Conservatives Try to Protect Military Chaplains' Prayers

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - Religious conservatives who favor greater freedom for military chaplains are upset by a Senate challenge to their proposal, saying the move amounts to opposition to religious freedom.

The Defense Authorization Bill is currently in a conference committee, as the House and Senate work on a final version. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) authored a provision in the House bill that would allow each military chaplain to pray according to his or her individual faith.

"Each Chaplain shall have the prerogative to pray according to the dictates of the chaplain's own conscience," the House proposal states, "except as must be limited by military necessity, with any such limitation being imposed in the least restrictive manner feasible."

Amanda Banks, federal policy analyst for Focus on the Family Action, said the House version "would protect a chaplain's right to pray according to the dictates of their conscience."

"This is, in our view, a very common sense issue," Banks said. "Certainly religious leaders in the military should be allowed to pray however they desire to pray in accordance with their faith."

But Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, opposes the House provision.

Banks told Cybercast News Service that Focus on the Family is "very disappointed that this is causing such a ruckus in a conference committee."

"It is a freedom of religion and freedom of speech issue, but Sen. Warner is leading the charge to replace this language with some very weak language that we believe would in fact prohibit a chaplain from praying in Jesus' name outside of a church service," said Banks. "It really goes way too far in restricting the religious freedom of military chaplains.

Warner's proposal states that, "In situations other than theological services or sectarian ceremonies when a prayer is offered, the policy shall require chaplains to be sensitive to and respect the diversity of faiths represented."

Banks calls Warner's plan "unreasonable."

"Military chaplains are the religious leaders for our men and women serving in the military. They look to them for guidance, for support, for encouragement," Banks said. "To prohibit how they can pray is really mind boggling."

The Defense Department also opposes the House version, according to the Army Times.

"It doesn't make sense, and is unacceptable to change the language in this way," Banks said of the House proposal.

Warner's office did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment for this article.

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