Free to Believe

Chaplain Joseph Lawhorn

U.S. Army Chaplain: Fort Benning, Georgia

On Thanksgiving Day 2014, Chaplain Joe Lawhorn was summoned to his commander's office where Col. David Fivecoat reprimanded him over a suicide prevention training Lawhorn had led in which he included faith as a resource for depression. Chaplain Joe Lawhorn, an Army Chaplain, had shared his own struggle with depression and how his faith helped guide him through a difficult time. Although religion was only part of a broader message on combatting suicide, the Chaplain was issued a Letter of Concern for acting in accordance with the Defense Department's own guidance, which says that "unless it could have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline, the Military Departments will accommodate individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs." 

A series of letters in support of Chaplain Lawhorn—from his colleagues, Liberty Institute, the Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition, members of Congress, and distinguished veterans—have been sent to his superiors, up to and including Secretary of the Army John McHugh, but with no satisfactory response. Ironically, Secretary McHugh had clarified the rules on religious expression in the branch the previous fall. "The Army has a significant problem with depression and suicide.  It seems logical that all potential solutions for resolving this devastating problem should be explored, including the spiritual dimensions of the issue."  Col. Fivecoat's actions, if not corrected by the rescission of the Letter of Concern, would most likely deprive men and women of the help they need in dealing with depression and the stress of military life.

Photo credit: Liberty Institute

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