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Army Punishes Beloved Chaplain over Lifesaving Anti-Suicide Message
Liberty Institute demands commander revoke dangerous violation of religious liberty
As reported in the national media this week, Liberty Institute has demanded that the United States Army revoke an unlawful violation of the religious rights of our client, Chaplain (Captain) Joseph “Joe” Lawhorn. What happened to Chaplain Lawhorn is a violation that could also jeopardize the lives of soldiers.
In an intolerant and astounding breach of both law and the safety of Army personnel, Chaplain Lawhorn’s commanding officer called him away from his family on Thanksgiving Day, November 27, at Camp Merrill, Georgia.
Colonel David Fivecoat abruptly questioned Chaplain Lawhorn regarding a suicide prevention message Lawhorn had given to an Army Ranger battalion.
Colonel Fivecoat has now issued Lawhorn a formal “Letter of Concern” to be placed in Chaplain Lawhorn’s file. This is a serious action with the potential to prematurely end the Chaplain’s stellar Army career, which includes earning the prestigious Army Ranger tab.
What was the cause of this harsh measure?
PUNISHING FAITH-BASED COMPASSION
In accordance with Army regulations, Lawhorn had recently given an extremely effective suicide prevention message that included Lawhorn’s own personal testimony of how his Christian faith had helped him counter depression.
Chaplain Lawhorn received a prolonged ovation from his audience of grateful Army Ranger students—and the complaint of a single atheist soldier to the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF). The MAAF contacted the Huffington Post, which publicized the complaint in a story critical of religion in the military.
The article led to Colonel Fivecoat’s Thanksgiving Day interrogation of Chaplain Lawhorn and to his issuing the “Letter of Concern” against the chaplain. The Letter states that Lawhorn “advocated for . . . Christianity and used Christian scripture and solutions” and therefore violated Army regulations.
DOUBLE TRAGEDY IF NOT REVERSED
“This is a double tragedy,” said Mike Berry, Senior Counsel for Liberty Institute and the Institute’s Military Affairs Director. “With suicide rates soaring in the Army, particularly the Army Rangers, Chaplain Lawhorn’s message was potentially lifesaving—and yet he has been punished for it. But this punishment is against the law. It violates federal law and military regulations. As our response letter points out, U.S. Army regulations not only allow chaplains to draw upon spiritual examples in formal suicide prevention efforts—they encourage the very use of spiritual examples Chaplain Lawhorn employed.”
In fact, just earlier this week a Military Times survey found that morale of active duty troops to be significantly lower than five years ago.
Berry added, “This is outrageous and will not stand. The law is on Chaplain Lawhorn’s side. We have respectfully requested a meeting and amicable settlement with the commanding officer, and nothing less than a public clearing of Chaplain Lawhorn’s name and reputation.” Liberty Institute’s letter requested that Colonel Fivecoat respond by December 15.
SOLDIERS SUPPORT THEIR CHAPLAIN
U.S. Army Rangers, including non-Christians, have poured out 33 letters of support for Chaplain Lawhorn, including his suicide prevention message. They contain accolades such as these:
- “the best chaplain I’ve worked with”
- “the Army needs more caring, compassionate, and smart individuals like Chaplain Lawhorn”
- “Joe simply connected with the audience on a human level that in the future will probably save someone from making a poor decision to end their own life”
- “He would never force his religious beliefs on anyone”
- “the finest chaplain I have ever observed”
CHAPLAIN NEEDS YOUR HELP
Now Chaplain Lawhorn—and all those he can help—needs your support.
An Army commander unlawfully gave Chaplain Lawhorn a “Letter of Concern.” Please sign your own “Letter of Concern to the U.S. Army for Violating Religious Freedom.” And when you sign, feel free to donate to help us defend heroes like Chaplain Lawhorn at no charge.
Liberty Institute—the largest legal organization dedicated solely to defending religious liberty in America—has successfully protected other members of the U.S. military whose religious rights were violated and their careers threatened. With your help, we will win for Chaplain Lawhorn and continue to defend and restore religious liberty for our service members.
SIGN OUR LETTER OF CONCERN TO THE U.S. ARMY