Bible (illustrative)
Bible (illustrative) Thinkstock

A U.S. Army chaplain has been reprimanded for "using Christian scriptures and solutions" at a suicide prevention training session.

The chaplain, Joseph Lawhorn, spoke at a seminar held at the University of North Georgia three weeks ago. He was issued a punitive "Letter of Concern" by Col. David Fivecoat, the commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade at Ft. Benning, Georgia.

“You provided a two-sided handout that listed Army resources on one side and a biblical approach to handling depression on the other side,” Fivecoat wrote, as reported by Fox News. “This made it impossible for those in attendance to receive the resource information without also receiving the biblical information."

The letter aroused the ire of a U.S. Congressman, Dough Collins (R) of Georgia, who wrote his own letter to Col. Fivecoat. "I find it counterintuitive," he wrote, "to have someone lead a suicide prevention course but prohibit them from providing their personal testimony." He added that the Army’s Equal Opportunity policy was formulated precisely to protect the personal beliefs of military personnel.

Ron Crews of Grace Churches International, which organized the training session, explained that Lawhorn "did nothing wrong. At no time did he say his was the only or even the preferred way of dealing with depression." Crews added that the chaplain simply discussed his own struggles with depression, and outlined the methods and techniques he personally used to combat depression.

"His story involves his faith journey,” Crews said. “He was simply being a great Army chaplain - in ministering to his troops and providing first hand how he has dealt with depression in the past. That’s what chaplains do. They bare their souls for their soldiers in order to help them with crises they may be going through.”

Traditional Values Coalition notes that this is just one of many attacks on religious freedom in the U.S. Army. The Air Force recently censored a video created by a chaplain because it includes the word "God," possibly offending Muslims and atheists. Similarly, a chaplain was relieved of his command over a military chapel because he would not allow same-sex weddings to take place there. 

Legally, Chaplain Lawhorn's advocates say his presentation is covered by the “right of conscience clause,” passed in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, section 533. Lawhorn's legal counsel, Michael Berry, said, “It took a great amount of courage for Chaplain Lawhorn to discuss his own personal battle with depression." He said the Army should rescind the Letter of Concern, which he called a "violation of the chaplain’s constitutional rights."