Gordon Klingenschmitt is a far-right Christian fundamentalist who claims he sacrificed his 16-year career in the military and a million dollar pension because he was targeted for praying publicly in Jesus’ name while serving as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy.
Klingenschmitt, who now runs a Colorado Spings-based nonprofit, “The Pray in Jesus Name Project,” is also fond of boasting to his right-wing extremist followers that he demanded his own court martial because his superior officers prohibited him from praying in the name of Jesus.
But those claims are flat-out lies.
He was actually charged with disobeying an order and kicked out of the Navy for attending a political rally in front of the White House in March 2006 dressed in his Navy uniform, a violation of military regulations. Dozens of media reports over the years have since debunked Klingenschmitt’s dishonest statements about the nature of his court-martial.
Furthermore, what makes Klingenschmitt’s claims of religious persecution so unbelievable is the fact that there have been dozens of examples where controversial, apocalyptic “End Times” evangelists like Klingenschmitt have force-fed their brand of fundamentalist Christianity down the throats of thousands of active-duty military personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq–in violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution–and the Department of Defense has turned a blind eye to the offenses, despite a mountain of complaints from the battlefield.
Perhaps the tallest tale Klingenschmitt has told his rabid right-wing following is the one in which he claims to have sacrificed a seven-figure pension in the name of Jesus.
That assertion is contradicted by an e-mail he sent in October 2006 to the Vice Adm. John Harvey, Jr., Chief of Naval Personnel stating that he would offer his “voluntary resignation or retirement,
and drop all complaints of reprisal/harassment, and waive all rights to future legal complaints against the Navy, if I were offered adequate compensation for my many years of service to our nation.”
His e-mail, obtained by The Public Record, made other veiled threats in an effort to get the Navy to pay him off in exchange for his silence.
For example, Klingenschmitt, who refused to comment for this story, threatened to turn over “documents,” supposedly backing his claims that he was being persecuted for praying in Jesus’ name, to Congress if his case was “unresolved.”
“Perhaps you’ve also noticed, both the Senate and House have scheduled hearings in January on this chaplain issue, and as their key whistleblower I’m sure they’ll be interested in my attached documents, should my complaint of new reprisals by [Chief of Naval Personnel] remain unresolved. Sir, I look forward to meeting you on Capitol Hill.”
In June of 2006, Klingenschmitt submitted a whistleblower complaint with members of Congress in which he accused naval officials of constitutional violations for prohibiting him from praying in the name of Jesus, which an 18-month investigation conducted by Navy officials concluded was “without merit.”
The “documents” Klingenschmitt cited in his e-mail to Vice Adm. Harvey were two newspaper articles, one from the Washington Post and the other from the Washington Times. It’s difficult to understand how Klingenschmitt would have believed these articles supported his cause.
The Washington Post report, published in September 2006, was headlined: “Navy Chaplain Guilty of Disobeying an Order.” The Washington Times article appears to be one written by an Associated Press reporter the newspaper carried on Sept. 12, 2006, headlined: “Navy chaplain faces court-martial for wearing uniform at protest.”
Other documents Klingenschmitt threatened to turn over to Congress included a petition, or something similar, that supposedly showed he was supported by “30 million evangelicals” and a “conference report ordering the [Secretary of the Navy] to rescind [non-sectarian prayer] policy.”
The Navy declined to settle with Klingenschmitt in exchange for his offer to drop his complaint.
Klingenschmitt’s e-mail was written less than a month after a Navy court found him guilty of disobeying an direct order not to wear his Navy uniform to a March 30, 2006 political rally in front of the White House. He was also issued a letter of reprimand.
Klingenschmitt appeared at the White House rally alongside former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, another right-wing religious zealot, who waged an unsuccessful campaign to keep a monument of the Ten Commandments at the state courthouse.
Kligenschmitt, who was an Air Force officer for 11 years prior to becoming a Navy chaplain in 2002, had also worked closely with Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., and other members of Congress, in lobbying the Bush administration to sign an executive order authorizing military chaplains to pray “in the name of Jesus.” That effort also proved to be futile.
In closing arguments of Klingenschmitt’s court-martial, where Moore testified on Klingenschmitt’s behalf, Cmdr. Rex A. Guinn told jurors that the case was not about praying in Jesus’ name, rather it was “about an experienced military officer receiving a clear order to not do something.”
Klingenschmitt’s attempts to appeal the guilty verdict were denied.
Further undercutting Klingenschmitt’s claim that he sacrificed his naval career in the name of Jesus is an e-mail Vice Adm. Harvey sent to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Mullen urging him to approve Klingenschmitt’s “involuntary release” from the Navy due to Klingenschmitt’s “lack of career potential.”
The e-mail was sent to Mullen a week before Klingenschmitt’s appearance at the rally. It noted that Klingenschmitt was insubordinate in his campaign to overturn longstanding military religious policies.
“This officer is the individual who conducted a hunger strike in front of the White House several months ago and has engaged in other actions concerning [Defense Department] and Navy Religious Ministry policies,” the e-mail said.
In February 2007, following his court-martial, Klingenschmitt sent a lengthy screed to Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter in which he came across as highly unstable and unwilling to accept the fact that he was denied his pension–hardly the voluntary gesture of a chaplain who said he sacrificed his livelihood for Jesus. His letter accused Navy officials of “raping” him because he filed a whistleblower complaint alleging his civil rights were violated.
Mikey Weinstein, the president and founder of the watchdog group The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), said the disgraced chaplain’s Oct. 6, 2006 e-mail to Vice Adm. Harvey requesting a cash settlement in exchange for dropping his complaints shows that Klingenschmitt is nothing more than a modern day “Judas Iscariot.”
“In my opinion, the shocking revelation of this blatantly extortionate demand letter for payoff money from Klingenschmitt to senior U.S. Navy leadership paints a crystal clear picture for all the world to see,” Weinstein said in an e-mail message. “That shamefully irrefutable picture is none other than one of a morbidly hypocritical, 21st Century, Judas Iscariot lustfully eager to betray his boundlessly self-professed piety, proselytizing ministry and missionary zeal for Jesus ‘for the right price’ to be paid to him by the United States Navy.
“However, whereas the original Judas allegedly managed to get paid his 30 pieces of blood money silver for the betrayal of Jesus, the U.S. Navy apparently made it unquestionably clear to Iscariot’s 21st Century clone, Klingenschmitt, that they would NOT pay him and he could in the alternative, essentially, simply go to hell. Indeed, any remaining molecules of good faith credibility Klingenschmitt may have had would now seem to be as extinct as the dinosaurs.”
In April, MRFF and Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) sent a letter to naval officials calling for an investigation into Klingenschmitt for continuing to represent himself as an active-duty Navy chaplain.
On his website, Klingenschmitt, who was trying to raise funds for his new endeavor when MRFF and AU lodged their complaint, posted a photograph of himself dressed in his Navy uniform and referred to himself as “Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt.” Federal law prohibits the misuse of military uniforms.
Klingenschmitt then posted a lengthy disclaimer and referred to Weinstein and Americans United executive director Rev. Barry Lynn as “boneheads.”
“The views of former Navy Chaplain Klingenschmitt do not represent the views of the U.S. Navy. The picture of Chaplain Klingenschmitt in uniform is a picture of his former self, taken while he was serving on active duty, therefore he was not impersonating an officer, he actually WAS an officer when the photo was taken (Duh).”
In May, Klingenschmitt urged his followers to pray for the death of Weinstein and Lynn.
“Let us pray. Almighty God, today we pray imprecatory prayers from Psalm 109 against the enemies of religious liberty, including Barry Lynn and Mikey Weinstein, who issued press releases this week attacking me personally. God, do not remain silent, for wicked men surround us and tell lies about us. We bless them, but they curse us. Therefore find them guilty, not me. Let their days be few, and replace them with Godly people. Plunder their fields, and seize their assets. Cut off their descendants, and remember their sins, in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Since he was kicked out of the Navy, Klingenschmitt has made a career out of twisting the true facts of his story and has cast himself as a martyr in the process. His followers have overlooked his long list of lies and half-truths. But former colleagues have routinely called him out.
As reported by AU, Norm Holcomb, a retired Navy chaplain who was Klingenschmitt’s boss, sent an e-mail in March 2007 to Kentucky state officials after he discovered the House of Representatives passed a resolution lauding the disgraced Navy chaplain for “service to God, country and the Commonwealth of Kentucky” and invited him to lead a prayer session.
“I was the dishonored ex-chaplain’s supervisor for the past 2 years,” Holcomb wrote in his message. “I found him to be totally untruthful, unethical and insubordinate. He was and is contemptuous of all authority. He was not court-martialed for praying in Jesus’ name. I sent him out in uniform every week to pray at various ceremonies and functions. He always prayed in uniform and in Jesus’ name.
“He was never told that he could not pray in Jesus’ name. In fact, the issue of prayer had nothing at all to do with his dismissal from the Navy. He disobeyed the lawful order of a senior officer. I am sure that you understand that Navy Regulations forbid any of us, regardless of rank or position, to appear in uniform in support of any political or partisan event.
“We have been relatively quiet regarding our ex-chaplain’s untruthfulness and lack of honor because we are embarrassed that one of our own could display such behavior in the name of our Lord. We wanted to spare all concerned the embarrassment associated with his dishonesty. However, it now seems that it would be wrong for those of us who know the truth to remain silent. I served with him and supervised him (as best as it was possible to supervise a person who refused to submit to lawful authority) and I know about his daily dishonesty and ‘spin’ of the truth.”