Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Endorsing Agency For Two Conservative Chaplains Sues VA Over Pastoral Education Program Clashes

Fox News and Breibart News report  on a federal lawsuit filed last week by the endorsing agency for two military chaplains who were forced out of a Clinical Pastoral Education program run by the Department of Veterans Affairs in San Diego. The program is required in order to work as a chaplain in a VA hospital. The two chaplains, who were endorsed by the Conservative Baptist Association of America, continually clashed in class with the religiously liberal instructor, Nancy Dietsch.  The complaint (full text) in Conservative Baptist Association of America, Inc. v. Shenseki, (D DC, filed 11/8/2013), sets out examples of in-class exchanges between Dietsch and chaplains Steven Firtko and Dan Klender, among which are:
... Dietsch informed the class she believes God could be a man or woman. Chaplain Firtko recited the Lord’s Prayer, stating “Our Father who Art in Heaven.” In response, Ms. Dietsch angrily pounded her fist on the table and shouted: “Do not quote Scripture in this class!”....
When Chaplain Klender responded to a question during a group discussion regarding the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown CT, by stating he would tell a parent whose child was a victim by stating that “there is evil in the world,” Ms. Dietsch impugned his core faith beliefs stating they would not work in a clinical setting. In the presence of the other students she said: “You don’t actually believe that do you?”
Dietsch also told the class that The VA and she "do not allow Chaplains to pray 'in Jesus' name' in public ceremonies."

The lawsuit contends that the program's intolerance of mainstream Judeo-Christian beliefs violates RFRA, the 1st Amendment's Free Exercise and Free Speech clauses. It also contends that discrimination against Conservative Baptist Association chaplains was arbitrary and capricious.

In a statement to news media, the VA said that the two chaplains were "bullying other classmates and refusing to honor other faith groups." [Corrected to make clear that plaintiff is the endorsing agency, not the chaplains. Thanks to God and Country blog.]