Two Baptist chaplains said they were forced out of a Veterans Affairs chaplain training program after they refused orders to stop quoting the Bible and to stop praying in the name of Jesus.
When the men objected to those demands they were subjected to ridicule and harassment that led to one of the chaplains leaving the program and the other being ejected, according to a federal lawsuit filed Friday.
The Conservative Baptist Association of America is suing Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki – alleging two of their chaplains were openly ridiculed by the leader of San Diego-based VA-DOD Clinical Pastoral Education Center program.
“Not only was the treatment these men received inappropriate, it was also a violation of federal law and the religious freedom guarantees of the First Amendment,” said John Wells, an attorney representing the Colorado-based denomination.
“No American choosing to serve in the armed forces should be openly ridiculed for his Christian faith,” he said, calling it one of the most blatant cases of religious discrimination he’s ever seen.
Lt. Commander Dan Klender, a Navy chaplain and Maj. Steven Firtko, a retired Army chaplain, had enrolled in the VA’s Clinical Pastoral Education Center program in San Diego last year.
The one-year training program is required for anyone wanting to work as a chaplain in a VA hospital. VA chaplains differ from other military chaplains in that they are limited to working in VA hospitals.
The program, that has affiliates around the nation, is open to chaplains of all religious faiths. However, applicants must have completed master-level seminary work.
There were seven chaplains enrolled in the San Diego program led by Nancy Dietsch, a Department of Veterans Affairs employee with a history of antagonistic behavior towards evangelicals, Wells said.
“She’s been very, very critical of Christians,” Wells told me in a telephone interview. “Instead of teaching anything dealing with faith issues, she’s dealing with a holistic, humanistic approach. It’s the idea that the spirit comes from within.”
The VA did not return my telephone calls, but they did release a statement to NBC San Diego. The VA said the two men were “bullying other classmates and refusing to honor other faith groups.”
Wells said the chaplains were subjected to anti-Christian bigotry.
“And that would be putting it mildly,” he said. “A lot of these so-called liberals are very liberal with their own ideas, but when it comes to somebody else’s ideas, they don’t want to hear it.
Among the allegations listed in the lawsuit:
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