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AU Derails Bachmann Scheme to Allow Military Chaplains to Proselytize

Church & State, July-August 2010 | Go to article overview

AU Derails Bachmann Scheme to Allow Military Chaplains to Proselytize


An effort to rewrite federal law to allow military chaplains to proselytize at public events failed after intervention by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) attempted to add language to the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act giving military chaplains the right to promote their personal beliefs at events where personnel from many faiths (and none) are present.

Bachmann's proposal came in the form of an amendment to the bill (H.R. 5136). It would have allowed chaplains to conclude prayers at non-religious events "according to the dictates of the Chaplain's conscience."

Although the wording sounded benign, the change could have had sweeping effects. Military chaplains are already allowed to offer specific prayers at sectarian worship services or at private events such as funerals. But as employees of the government, they serve a diverse constituency, not just members of their own tradition.

Thus, chaplains are sometimes asked to offer invocations at military events where personnel from many faiths are present. At those, non-sectarian prayers may be requested.

Religious Right groups have been up in arms about this policy for years and have insisted that chaplains of a fundamentalist bent should have the right to use proselytizing language in invocations and benedictions.

Bachmann's maneuver was thwarted after Americans United Legislative Director Aaron Schuham got wind of the scheme May 26 while poring over the defense bill's hundreds of amendments to check for potential church-state problems. He and AU's legislative team quickly swung into action, notifying AU allies and organizing a lobbying effort aimed at U.S. House leaders.

The effort paid off when the bill came up for a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives. Bachmann's amendment was ruled out of order.

Bachmann, a Religious Right favorite, also captured headlines recently after reports surfaced that she and her husband, Dr.

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AU Derails Bachmann Scheme to Allow Military Chaplains to Proselytize
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