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On The Front Lines

VICTORY: District Court Affirms Right of Chaplains to Offer Imprecatory Prayers, Grants TRI Request to Dismiss Lawsuit

DALLAS, Texas—Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have succeeded in getting a lawsuit dismissed against a chaplaincy endorsing organization that was being sued over allegations that a chaplain affiliated with the group solicited imprecatory prayers which the plaintiffs considered to be “terroristic threats.” The lawsuit, which defined imprecatory prayer as “prayers for the Lord to protect the weak and faithful from the strong and wicked,” sought to limit the content of prayers offered by chaplains who are approved by the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches (CFGC). For more than 25 years, CFGC has carried out a service to the nation by endorsing military and civilian chaplains. In a ruling from the bench by state District Court Judge Martin Hoffman, the court rejected the allegation that prayers critical of plaintiff Mikey Weinstein by Gordon Klingenschmitt, a chaplain endorsed by CFGC, caused other persons to threaten and damage property of the Weinsteins.

“Thankfully, the district court recognized that if people are forced to stop offering imprecatory prayers, half the churches, synagogues and mosques in this country will have to be shut down,” stated John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Free speech is the last bastion we have in this country. You can’t censor or stifle speech based on speculation.”

In 1984, the Department of Defense approved the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches (CFGC) as an endorsing agency for military chaplains. CFGC is also recognized by the Veterans Administration, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and many other federal, state, municipal, and private institutions and agencies that employ chaplains to minister in a variety of specialized settings. CFGC presently endorses more than 270 military chaplains/chaplain candidates and more than 180 civilian chaplains/seminarians. The lawsuit against CFGC and its founder, the late Jim Ammerman, was filed by Mikey Weinstein, the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). The lawsuit sought to penalize CFGC for imprecatory prayers offered by one of its chaplains, Gordon Klingenschmitt. According to the lawsuit, Klingenschmitt posted a prayer on his website urging followers to pray for divine protection for CFGC and for the downfall of MRFF, which has been actively seeking to have CFGC removed as an approved chaplain endorsing agency. Weinstein accused CFGC of conspiring to threaten him through the prayers of its supporters. In coming to the defense of the CFGC, Rutherford Institute attorneys noted that while CFGC has no control over the content of prayers offered by its chaplains, the content of one’s prayers is protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Affiliate attorneys Shelby Sharp of Fort Worth, Texas, and Art Schulcz of Alexandria, Va., assisted The Rutherford Institute in its defense of the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches.