To pray -- or not to pray -- in Jesus' name is the question plaguing an increasing number of U.S. military chaplains, one of whom began a multiday hunger strike outside the White House yesterday.
"I am a Navy chaplain being fired because I pray in Jesus' name," said Navy Lt. Gordon Klingenschmitt, who will be holding 6 p.m. prayer vigils daily in Lafayette Park.
The hunger strike is intended to persuade President Bush to issue an executive order allowing military chaplains to pray according to their individual faith traditions. The American Center for Law and Justice has gathered 173,000 signatures on a petition seeking an executive order.
Seventy-three members of Congress have joined the request, saying in an Oct. 25 letter to the president, "In all branches of the military, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Christian chaplains to use the name of Jesus when praying."
About 80 percent of U.S. troops are Christian, the legislators wrote, adding that military "censorship" of chaplains' prayers disenfranchises "hundreds of thousands of Christian soldiers in the military who look to their chaplains for comfort, inspiration and support."
Official military policy allows any sort of prayer, but Lt. Klingenschmitt says that in reality, evangelical Protestant prayers are censored. He cites his training at the Navy Chaplains School in Newport, R.I., where "they have clipboards and evaluators who evaluate your prayers, and they praise you if you pray just to God," he said. "But if you pray in Jesus' name, they counsel you."
Muslim, Jewish and Roman Catholic chaplains are likewise told not to pray in the name of Allah, in Hebrew or in the name of the Trinity, he added....
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Protect Military Prayer!
A group of Congressmen, led by Rep. Walter Jones, has come together to call on our President to protect by Executive Order the constitutional rights of military chaplains to pray according to their faith. The ACLJ supports this brave group! We stand with them and call concerned citizens everywhere to let their voices be heard on this critical issue. Today, we ask you to join us in our efforts. Please read the form carefully and declare your membership with the ACLJ by signing the Petition to Protect Military Prayer to President Bush below.
Petition to Protect Military Prayer
To the Honorable President George W. Bush
We are disappointed and gravely concerned to learn that the right of military chaplains to pray according to their faith is in jeopardy.
It has come to our attention that in all branches of the military, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Christian chaplains to use the name of Jesus when praying. We believe this suppression of religious freedom is a pervasive problem that must be dealt with and eliminated immediately.
Throughout our nation's history, chaplains not only have remained an integral part of our military, but they also have always prayed according to their faith's tradition. We believe that if chaplains are chosen to pray before a professional setting, they have a constitutional right to adhere to the religious expressions of their faith. Furthermore, such censorship of Christian beliefs is a disservice to Christian chaplains as well as the hundreds of thousands of Christian soldiers in the military who look to their chaplains for comfort, inspiration, and support, just as our military soldiers of other faiths look to their chaplains.
We respectfully request that you, as Commander and Chief, protect by Executive Order the constitutional right of military chaplains to pray according to their faith.
sign petition here