In the latest example of stunning dishonesty from conservative Christians who want to view themselves as persecuted, a group of Navy Chaplains has apparently enlisted a damn liar statistician to “prove” that they’re being discriminated against by not being promoted to higher officer ranks as frequently as chaplains from other Christian denominations. I have an alternative explanation: maybe they’re not being promoted because they aren’t doing their duties as well as other chaplains.

The Christian Post illustrated this article with a photo of former chaplain James Klingenschmitt praying while in uniform. Klingenschmitt loves playing the martyr and frequently claims that he was kicked out of the Navy “for praying in Jesus’ name.” Actually, he was kicked out of the Navy because he disobeyed a lawful order. He, like all military personnel, was forbidden from wearing his uniform at a political event in order to prevent the impression of military approval or endorsement of a political group or message. Klingenschmitt wore his uniform to a rally; he disobeyed an order, and he was court martialed for it. In fact, the photo on the CP’s site is almost certainly the very event that led to Klingenschmitt’s court martial.

None of this is mentioned in the CP article or the photo’s caption. Either they are very badly failing at their journalistic endeavors, or they’re deliberately using a disgraced ex-officer as their prime illustration of some Christians who claim to be discriminated against, and lying by omission.

The lawsuit concerns promotions to O-4 and above (Major or Lt. Commander and above), which are the first competitive promotion boards. If these chaplains really see themselves as following in Klingenschmitt’s insubordinate footsteps, it makes perfect sense that promotion boards might evaluate them as underperforming officers. Chaplains who make it their mission to undermine and even disobey military regulations, direct orders, and their own oaths as officers to the Constitution and its principle of religious liberty probably aren’t impressing their superiors with their outstanding performance.

This is just one more stunt by conservative Christians in the military that reveals their true colors. Chris Rodda of the wonderful Military Religious Freedom Foundation has a piece in the Huffington Post about the much larger and better-organized Officers’ Christian Fellowship. I speculated a while ago about how much consternation a similar Pagan organization would raise. I didn’t know at the time how evangelical the OCF was.

I would never want Pagans to adopt similarly fundamentalist attitudes or act to oppress others’ free exercise. But in the face of such oppression ourselves, we have to stay alert. We have to be active to debunk the lies, whether they’re told through statistics or false claims of discrimination or martyrdom. We have to be willing to work personally and politically to protect religious liberty for all Americans, Christian and non, military and civilian, alike.


(Although I tipped my hat to Mark Twain in the title, as a mathematician and sometimes statistician myself, I would like to point out that statistics is not all damn lies; it’s actually a wonderful field that does a lot to uncover truths and can be used to make the world a better place. Sadly, it can also be abused by unethical people like this. If there’s a deity of statistics, perhaps zie will lend a helping hand – or a randomized sample – to making sure that this kind of nonsense gets disregarded.)

6 thoughts on “Navy Chaplains, Damn Lies, and Statistics

  1. Since the statistician’s report has been entered as evidence, presumably a copy could be obtained from the office of the Registrar of the court (or whatever they’re called in the US). So too could copies of any reports of opposing experts. Might make for amusing reading.

  2. Just a note about “Lie, Damned lies, and Statistics.” Twain didn’t originate it. I actually found the place where it appears in his writings. It’s a quote, and he attributed it to Disraeli, who is the other person I usually see getting credit for the expression. Actually, Twain admitted to not knowing the expression’s origins, but mentioned Disraeli as the most often cited source.

  3. So, if these statistics are “damn lies” were is your proof. Also you accuse these officers of maybe not being fit chaplains? Again any proof? Is it possible that there is any validity to thier accusations, or are you just assuming because they are conservatives, they are lying? It seems that you have an ax to grind, and it’s getting pretty sharp. I served in the army and I can tell you that the chaplains I knew went out of there way to help everyone. Of course you have knuckleheads like the one that was booted out for disobeying a direct order, but don’t paint all of us evangelicals with that brush.

    1. First, this post is as much about the disingenuous reporting by the Christian Post as it is about the chaplains. Second, I suggest that this incident, especially given the way it was handled by the Christian Post, may be part of a larger pattern of both circumstantial and direct evidence that some chaplains and other officers in the US military have acted inappropriately and may continue to do so except when under direct scrutiny.

      Finally, I argue that these statistics may be true, in the mathematical sense, and totally irrelevant to the larger false argument they are being used to support. I dislike seeing a single small piece of quantitative evidence held up as seemingly incontrovertible proof of the larger, potentially false, logical argument. The context of the reporting and the larger pattern both provide good reasons to doubt the overarching argument.

      In exactly the same way, it may be true that you, as a self-described evangelical, never experienced or witnessed chaplains acting inappropriately or discriminating against non-evangelicals and/or non-Christians, but your experience as a member of the privileged group is not evidence that discrimination does not happen. That’s like man saying he never experiences or sees women being subject to sexism: potentially true in some sense, but not relevant evidence for the argument that sexism doesn’t happen. Your privilege is showing.

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