Army Punishes Beloved Chaplain over Lifesaving Anti-Suicide Message

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from Liberty Institute,

Chaplain reprimanded because of one atheist’s complaint.

As reported in the national media this week, Liberty Institute has demanded that the United States Army revoke an unlawful violation of the religious rights of our client, Chaplain (Captain) Joseph “Joe” Lawhorn. What happened to Chaplain Lawhorn is a violation that could also jeopardize the lives of soldiers.


In an intolerant and astounding breach of both law and the safety of Army personnel, Chaplain Lawhorn’s commanding officer called him away from his family on Thanksgiving Day, November 27, at Camp Merrill, Georgia.

Colonel David Fivecoat abruptly questioned Chaplain Lawhorn regarding a suicide prevention message Lawhorn had given to an Army Ranger battalion.

Colonel Fivecoat has now issued Lawhorn a formal “Letter of Concern” to be placed in Chaplain Lawhorn’s file. This is a serious action with the potential to prematurely end the Chaplain’s stellar Army career, which includes earning the prestigious Army Ranger tab.

What was the cause of this harsh measure?


In accordance with Army regulations, Lawhorn had recently given an extremely effective suicide prevention message that included Lawhorn’s own personal testimony of how his Christian faith had helped him counter depression.

Chaplain Lawhorn received a prolonged ovation from his audience of grateful Army Ranger students—and the complaint of a single atheist soldier to the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF). The MAAF contacted the Huffington Post, which publicized the complaint in a story critical of religion in the military.

The article led to Colonel Fivecoat’s Thanksgiving Day interrogation of Chaplain Lawhorn and to his issuing the “Letter of Concern” against the chaplain. The Letter states that Lawhorn “advocated for . . . Christianity and used Christian scripture and solutions” and therefore violated Army regulations.


“This is a double tragedy,” said Mike Berry, Senior Counsel for Liberty Institute and the Institute’s Military Affairs Director. “With suicide rates soaring in the Army, particularly the Army Rangers, Chaplain Lawhorn’s message was potentially lifesaving—and yet he has been punished for it. But this punishment is against the law. It violates federal law and military regulations. As our response letter points out, U.S. Army regulations not only allow chaplains to draw upon spiritual examples in formal suicide prevention efforts—they encourage the very use of spiritual examples Chaplain Lawhorn employed.”

In fact, just earlier this week a Military Times survey found that morale of active duty troops to be significantly lower than five years ago.

Berry added, “This is outrageous and will not stand. The law is on Chaplain Lawhorn’s side.

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