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Chaplains’ discrimination concern joined by Associated Gospel Churches

TAYLORS, S.C. (BP)–An association of independent churches with approximately 1.4 million members has followed in the footsteps of the Southern Baptist Convention with a resolution calling on the Navy to eliminate discrimination against evangelical chaplains.

Passed at the 2001 annual convention of the Associated Gospel Churches (AGC) in Greencastle, Ohio, the resolution is similar to one adopted at last June’s annual SBC meeting.

The resolution also prompted Billy Baugham, chairman of the AGC’s Commission on Chaplains, to lodge a formal complaint with Secretary of the Navy Gordon England.

Several concerns listed in his letter are similar to those raised in a class-action lawsuit that includes five Southern Baptists. A former AGC chaplain is part of the class action and two more want to join the suit.

“Regardless of how stellar the record of individual chaplains has been, only three of our chaplains have been promoted to the rank of commander,” said Baugham, whose agency has endorsed 75 chaplains currently on duty. “Only one [was promoted] to the rank of captain in our history.

“In addition, there has never been an AGC chaplain assigned to any key leadership position within the Navy Chaplain Corps, such as fleet chaplain, major claimant chaplain or regional chaplain.”

Baugham wrote to England about three weeks after the AGC passed its resolution last August. However, he just released a copy of the letter to Baptist Press, because he had been waiting for an official response.

An answer came recently from Cmdr. L.J. Braddock, director of the Navy’s equal opportunity division, denying any bias occurred based on an individual’s denominational ties.

“There is currently no specific indication of religious discrimination occurring in Chaplain Corps promotions,” Braddock wrote. “It is standard practice for all active and reserve Navy Chaplain Corps promotion boards to remove any language in a chaplain’s record that reflects his or her denomination.”

In addition, two line officers are assigned to each board to mitigate possible denominational bias, Braddock said. Deliberations are confidential and notes or records of deliberation are not kept, he stated.

Officers considered for promotion are judged on various factors and evaluated on their performance over the course of their career, the Navy official said. Selections are also weighed in favor of those who serve in more arduous tours, Braddock said.

But in a second letter written Jan. 11, Baugham told England that he was disappointed with Braddock’s response.

Baugham said the Navy officer had represented as normal practice policies that have changed because of the chaplains’ litigation, such as the recent inclusion of two line officers on promotion boards.

He also said Braddock’s statement that officers who seek challenging assignments have a higher probability of promotion directly contradicts a March 2000 study by the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA).

That study concluded that chaplains who served in Washington, D.C., area billets had better chances for promotion, as did chaplains without Marine experience, Baugham noted.

In his correspondence last August, Baugham named former AGC chaplain and class-action participant Michael Wright as an example of the Navy’s discrimination. He said Wright’s “absolutely outstanding” record included:

— No B’s in his fitness reports, which are graded evaluations used at promotion board hearings.

— Recommendations for early promotions on all but one report, which was a “must promote.”

— Consistently high marks on physical readiness tests.

— Ranking first above three other, more senior chaplains during 20 years of Navy service.

Despite this record, the Navy twice failed to select him for commander and informed him last summer that he had to retire. Wright left the military last November, Baugham said.

The AGC chaplainancy leader said that on his next-to-last fitness report, Wright ranked above the command chaplain under whom he served.

Baugham said that commander told sailors under his command he was certain that he would not be promoted since he had earned a “two” in “military bearing” and failed the physical readiness test for not meeting weight standards.

Baugham’s allegations parallel those aired in a Department of Defense (DOD) report which was included as an exhibit in the class-action lawsuit. The report followed an investigation into claims by now-retired chaplain Stan Aufderheide of improprieties in a promotion board hearing.

The DOD report included an admission that one chaplain was promoted over another with a superior record because of the “needs of the Navy.” It also mentioned that one chaplain was promoted despite failing to meet body fat standards nine consecutive times.

The information regarding Wright’s superior suggests Wright should have been selected and his superior failed, Baugham said, but the reverse occurred. Despite the superior’s failings, he was allowed to assume the grade of commander and earned a premier assignment, Baugham added.

This reflects reports his agency has received of other, alleged improprieties committed by non-evangelical chaplains who were nonetheless retained, promoted and still hold key Chaplain Corps leadership positions, Baugham said.

“Simply stated, sir, that is outrageous,” Baugham wrote. “[It] voids any claim to neutrality in either selection or assignment that the Navy may claim. It additionally completely erodes any believability Chaplain Corps officials may have had with regard to these matters.

“To put it candidly, the overwhelming evidence suggests that there is ‘something rotten’ in the Navy Chaplain Corps. I am calling on you to investigate fully these allegations and correct the glaring deficiencies.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: RECOGNITION FOR SERVICE.

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  • Ken Walker