A U.S. Navy chaplain has been accused of violating the U.S. Constitution for teaching an optional 12-week seminar called “Lead Like Jesus” at Naval Station Newport in Rhode Island.
Cmdr. Richard Clay Smothers, based out of Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island, emailed a flyer about the series to military leaders, Navy Times reports.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), led by founder and president Mikey Weinstein, is asking base commander Capt. Ian Johnson to investigate and punish Smothers and anyone else who promoted the event, through a flyer and email noting a change of venue on Thursday.
According to the religious liberty legal organization First Liberty Institute, Cmdr. Richard Smothers is being antagonized by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation — a group that argues for a strictly secularist interpretation of the Constitution — for promoting the seminar at the base.
On Friday morning, retired Air Force Brigadier Gen. Marty France, an MRFF board member, sent an email to Johnson claiming it is a violation of the Constitution and Navy rules because some of the people who received the email might not be Christian.
“It’s not any kind of directive from the chaplain to lead like Jesus. It’s a discussion series after services only for those who volunteer to attend,” Elizabeth Baker, a spokeswoman for Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, told the Navy Times in response.
“We promote an environment of religious freedom in a manner that supports the free exercise of religion by service members, their family and other persons authorized services through Professional Naval Chaplaincy.”
Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, founder of MRFF, accused Smothers of having “weaponized Christianity” in an interview with the Navy Times published in January. He added that those behind the discussions should be “visibly and aggressively investigated and punished.”
“Nothing could be more disruptive to good order and discipline and unit cohesion than a message like this,” he said.
Commenting on the matter, First Liberty noted that encouraging troops through faith is in the job description of a chaplain.
“Most chaplains are endorsed by a particular church or religious organization, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or a host of other religions. They agree to uphold that organization’s beliefs and to carry out their duties as a representative of their faith. If they don’t, they lose their endorsement,” the organization said Friday.
“That’s why it’s so absurd when chaplains are attacked for sharing certain aspects of their faith — like a Christian chaplain giving a seminar about Jesus. It goes against their very job description.”
An advisory board member of MRFF countered that discussions called “Lead like Mohammed” or “Atheist Leadership” would likewise not be “tolerated” on the base.
Mike Berry, general counsel for First Liberty Institute, said in an interview with Fox News earlier this month that Jesus was a leader and it’s perfectly legal to study His leadership.
“It’s perfectly legal to study his leadership. In fact, some of our military leaders would do well to study Jesus’ leadership a bit more. None other than our first commander in chief, George Washington, looked to Jesus as a model of leadership.”