Government-financed chaplains have been a long-standing fixture in the U.S. armed forces, despite the arguments of those who claim the practice amounts to unconstitutional government support of religion. This enduring relationship faces a new challenge as a result of support for the pro-life movement among military chaplains.

At the center of the controversy are new military guidelines instructing chaplains to "actively avoid" political advocacy. The guidelines were issued in June after Roman Catholic chaplains urged parishioners to participate in the national "Project Life Postcard Campaign," which was cosponsored by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. In the campaign, Catholics were encouraged to write postcards to their members of Congress expressing support for a legislative ban on the late-term partial-birth abortion procedure. President Clinton ultimately vetoed the ban (CT, Nov. 11, 1996, p. 94).

LOBBYING BAN INVOKED: Military officials determined that the Catholic postcard campaign violated laws prohibiting government employees from lobbying for legislation.

In a June memorandum to the Air Force Chaplain Service, Air Force Judge Advocate General Maj. Gen. Bryan G. Hawley said that federal and military regulations "all prohibit the type of support requested by the Project Life Campaign." Hawley's memo said that chaplains "may from the pulpit address the moral issues surrounding the debate," but that they should "actively avoid becoming an advocate for particular parties, candidates, party platforms or proposed legislation."

"We must constantly be vigilant to avoid politicizing the armed forces," Hawley wrote. "To do so poses a grave threat to good order and discipline." The navy and the army also issued instructions ...

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