Navy Debunks Fox News' Defense Of Anti-Gay Chaplain

A Navy Commanding Officer debunked conservative media's defense of a Navy chaplain, who was disciplined after discriminating against female and LGBT students, stating that the chaplain's ability to express his religious beliefs “has not been restricted or substantially burdened.” 

On February 15, chaplain Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder was given a “detachment for cause” from his unit after an investigation by the Navy found him guilty of repeated inappropriate and discriminatory behavior against students at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command (NNPTC) in South Carolina, including telling a student that “the penis was meant for the vagina and not for the anus” and shaming a student for having premarital sex.

The anti-gay legal group Liberty Institute is now representing  Modder, alleging in a March 9 complaint to the Navy that Modder has been discriminated against due to his religious beliefs. Fox News correspondent and serial misinformer Todd Starnes also jumped on the story, publishing a report defending the chaplain's discriminatory actions. Conservative media parroted Starnes' narrative, and praised chaplain Modder as a hero for religious liberty.

The claim that Modder was “discriminated” against due to his religious beliefs also gained traction with other anti-LGBT organizations, including the hate group Family Research Council, which collected over 80,000 signatures in a petition demanding Modder's reinstatement and securement of “his religious freedom.”

But in a Navy memorandum released on March 16 in response to the Liberty Institute's complaint, Commanding Officer, Capt. J.R. Fahs rejected the conservative narrative that the disciplinary action was a result of Modder's religious beliefs (emphasis added): 

In your case, I find that your ability to express your religious beliefs during pastoral counseling has not been restricted or substantially burdened. Rather, the decision to relieve you from your duties is based on your failure to uphold the core capabilities of chaplains as stated in reference (c), and the professional standards of conduct and the guiding principles of the Chaplain Corps


Specifically, under the core capability of “care,” you have the duty to be sensitive to the religious, spiritual, moral, cultural, and personal differences of those you serve. Your inability to comfort and counsel in a manner that was respectful of the counselee while maintaining dignity and professionalism... led you to be relieved of your duties. I note that you dispute some of these allegations, but after considering your denials, I find the multiple allegations in references (e) and (f) to be credible. In making my determination I considered all applicable Navy rules and policies... and consulted with the Navy Chief of Chaplains office.


While I support your religious freedoms and sincerely held beliefs, my decision to relieve you was based on your failure to comply with references (c) and (d); not the exercise of your religion.

Starnes acknowledged the memorandum in a March 17 opinion article but refused to drop his Christian persecution accusations, titling his piece “Showdown: Navy forces chaplain to choose between faith and job.” Starnes conceded that the Navy “rejected Modder's claim that he was being singled out because of his Christian faith,” but dismissed the Navy's investigation by alleging that the chaplain “may have been the target of a set-up.”

Starnes ended his piece by conflating the Modder's behavior with biblical Christianity - one of his network's more popular defenses of homophobia:  

It is puzzling why a gay officer would continuously seek the counsel of a chaplain who clearly held to the Bible's teachings on both homosexuality and marriage.

It would be like a vegetarian getting upset at a barbecue joint for not serving tofu. 

The Navy's response to Modder's behavior dismantles conservative media's argument that someone's religious beliefs create a blank check to ignore their job responsibilities and engage in discrimination.