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Religious Accommodation of the Orthodox Faithful in the U.S. Army January 18, 2010

Posted by stgeorgeoma in Uncategorized.
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Re-posted from the SGOMA Facebook Discussion Board (SGOMA Facebook)

Written by Fr. Peter M. Dubinin
Chaplain (Major), USAR
Special Categories Chaplain Recruiting, OIC

Glory to Jesus Christ! I got to thinking that most soldiers may not be familiar with the regulations reference religious accommodation in the Army and the requirements of their command to provide for them what they need spiritually and how to go about getting it. I always counsel soldiers to know the regulations; don’t depend on others for information it is your responsibility to know. Others may or may not read the regulations accurately. The first section below is comprised of elements from AR 600-20, Command Policy. In short the command has a responsibility to accommodate religious practice when such practice does not undermine morale, unit readiness and cohesion, etc. I copied only a selection from the various regulations; I encourage soldiers to get their hands on the regulations (all are available online, and read for themselves).

From AR 600-20: The Army places a high value on the rights of its Soldiers to observe tenets of their respective religious faiths. The Army will approve requests for accommodation of religious practices unless accommodation will have an adverse impact on unit readiness, individual readiness, unit cohesion, morale, discipline, safety, and/or health. g. Requests for religious accommodation generally fall into five major areas: (1) Worship practices. Some religious groups have worship requirements that conflict with the Soldier’s normal availability for duty; for example worship on days other than Saturday or Sunday, a 25-hour Sabbath, or special holy days or periods. These will be accommodated except when precluded by military necessity. If the time required for religious worship falls within normal duty hours or duty rosters, the Soldier may request exception from those hours and rosters. The Soldier, however, must be prepared to perform alternative duty or duty hours. Commanders may grant ordinary leave as an option to Soldiers who desire to observe lengthy holy periods or days. (2) Dietary practices. Some faith groups have religious tenets that prohibit the eating of specific foods, or prescribe a certain manner in which food must be prepared. A Soldier with a conflict between the diet provided by the Army and that required by religious practice may request an exception to policy to ration separately. Religious belief is grounds for granting such an exception. The Soldier may also request permission to take personal supplemental rations when in a field or combat environment.

From AR 165-1, Army Chaplain Corp Activities: Religious Support in the Army, 2–1. General, a. Commanders provide opportunities for the free exercise of religion through their Chaplains, Chaplain Assistants, and other religious support members. b. Participation in religious activities is voluntary. However, Army personnel may be required to provide administrative support before, during, or after worship services or religious activities in support of the CMRP (command master religious program). c. Commanders will approve Soldiers requests for accommodation of specific religious practices whenever possible, subject to the limits of military necessity. Examples of accommodation include: Soldiers with religious dietary requirements, the wearing of religious apparel, and sufficient time for travel to and from religious activities (see AR600–20 and AR 670–1).d. Religious support activities using government facilities are a primary entitlement for Soldiers, their Family members, retirees, DOD civilians, and other authorized personnel. Access to or use of these facilities is subject to law, local command approval, and CMRP priorities. While certain activities may be open to the public, attendance at such activities does not lead to any claim on further pastoral ministry or coverage for unauthorized personnel.

3–2. Chaplain as professional military religious leader, a. General. All Chaplains provide for the nurture and practice of religious beliefs, traditions, and customs in a pluralistic environment to strengthen the spiritual lives of Soldiers and their Families. Chaplains conduct the religious programs and activities for the Command and provide professional advice and counsel on religious, moral, and ethical issues. b. Roles and responsibilities. (1) Chaplains are required by law to hold religious services for members of the command to which they are assigned, when practicable. Chaplains provide for religious support, pastoral care, and the moral and spiritual wellbeing of the command (10 USC 3547). (2) Chaplains will minister to the personnel of their unit and/or facilitate the free-exercise rights of all personnel, regardless of religious affiliation of either the Chaplain or the unit member.(3) Chaplains will perform their professional military religious leader ministrations in accordance with the tenets or faith requirements of the religious organization that certifies and endorses them (see DODD 1304.19). (6) Chaplains will not be required to perform a religious role (such as offering a prayer, reading, dedication, or blessing) in worship services, command ceremonies, or other events, if doing so would be in variance with the tenets or practices of their faith. Chaplains will make every effort to provide for required ministrations which they cannot personally perform.

3–3. Chaplain as principle military religious advisor, a. General. (1) Chaplains serve on the special or personal staff of a command with direct access to the commander (FM 6–0). (2) Chaplains, in performing their duties, are expected to speak with a prophetic voice and must confront the issues of religious accommodation, the obstruction of free exercise of religion, and moral turpitude in conflict with the Army values.

What we draw from this is 1. Commanders have a responsibility to accommodate the distinctive religious requirements of their soldiers; 2. Through the unit chaplain, commanders insure the free exercise of religion for their soldiers; 3. if a chaplain cannot because of faith group distinctives, their own and the soldiers, perform what is religiously necessary for the soldier, they, the chaplain, must make the necessary arrangements to provide for that soldier. E.g., a protestant chaplain cannot minister “communion” to an Orthodox soldier; in order to meet the Orthodox soldier’s religious needs, the chaplain must find an Orthodox priest, military or civilian, and requesting use of his commander’s resources (e.g., vehicle, etc.), get that soldier that which they require.

Bottom Line is this – An Orthodox soldier requests accommodation of their religious needs through their chain of command via the unit chaplain. It is the Constitutional right of every Orthodox soldier to expect the US Army to accommodate their religious needs; the law (United States Code, Title 10) requires that chaplains perform/provide for the religious needs of soldiers.

Fr. Peter

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