Officials at an Illinois Navy Boot Camp are defending their decision too ban select religious volunteers from their base.

Officials at an Illinois Navy boot camp are standing by their decision to ban several civilian religious volunteers from leading services on the base. Since late April, at the order of Capt. Doug Pfeifle, volunteers from various minority faiths have not been allowed to lead services on base. Pfeifle also ordered that the recruit be given both the time and materials to worship on their own.

This action caught the attention of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and its founder and President, Mikey Weinstein. Weinstein submitted a complaint on behalf of one volunteer, a practicing Druid, requesting that Pfeifle reverse his decision.

In an interesting turn of events, the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty and its executive director Ron Crews joined the battle with Weinstein. Crews and Weinstein are usually on opposite sides of arguments, as the MRFF is outwardly opposed to the Christian influence present in the military.

But Pfeifle did not reverse his decision, and instead maintained the ban on the boot camp. He responded to the criticisms stating that the change was designed to align the camp with Naval standards. Moreover, recruits can officially request religious chaplains of their own faith, if they go through the necessary channels.

Despite Pfeifle’s claims, at least a few of the volunteers who were leading services during holiday routine were put off by the decision. The Druid volunteer, John Chantry, said that he was leading services of more than 200 recruits at the boot camp. But not only Druids were affected by this decision. Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian Science, Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, and non-liturgical Protestant recruits were also left without a leader.

Boot camp officials point to the hierarchy set forth by the Navy which states that services should be conducted by a uniformed chaplain. If this is not possible, then an accredited military member should perform the service. Next in line would be a contracted chaplain. Finally, if none of the above options are feasible, volunteers could be put into action.

Attorney Robert Eye, on behalf of the MRFF, said that Navy boot camp officials are violating the First Amendment’s prohibition of allowing one religion to win preference over another. The MRFF plans to continue to pursue this issue until all recruits at the boot camp can have religious services in the fashion they desire.


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