Report | July 22, 2015

Rights of Conscience Protections for Armed Forces Service Members and Their Chaplains

DODIG-2015-148

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 required the DoD Inspector General to submit a report to the congressional defense committees setting forth the results of an investigation “into the compliance by the Armed Forces with the elements of such regulations on adverse personnel actions, discrimination, or denials of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment for members of the Armed Forces based on conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs.” The objectives for this assessment were to determine:

  1. The extent to which the Department of Defense issued and complied with regulations designed to protect the rights of conscience for service members.
  2. The extent to which the Department of Defense issued and complied with regulations designed to protect chaplains’ rights of conscience.
  3. The number of contacts received by the Inspector General of the Department of Defense and Inspectors General of U.S. Military Departments regarding incidents involving the rights of conscience of a service member or chaplain.

Objective 1

Results

As of April 2015, DoD and the Army had issued updates to regulations implementing the protections afforded by Section 533, while Navy regulations were pending approval and Air Force regulations were partially complete. We identified four issues with these regulations.

  • The Services were not consistently evaluating religious accommodation requests within established timeframes.
  • Approved accommodation for certain requests did not apply for the duration of the military career of the requestor, raising concerns for certain faith practitioners.
  • Updates to DoD Instruction 1300.17, “Accommodation of Religious Practices within the Military Services,” dated January 22, 2014, allowed approval requests for the use of otherwise controlled substances in religious practices by local commanders.
  • Noncommissioned officers handled many requests that did not require a decision by the commander.

Recommendations

  • The Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness (USD [P&R]), in coordination with the Military Services, should review the 30- and 60-day standard for the final disposition of requests to the Secretaries of the Military Departments.
  • The Army and Navy should evaluate requests for accommodation requiring waivers within required timeframes.
  • The Air Force should track requests for accommodations requiring waivers and update regulations to clarify roles and responsibilities for approval of accommodation requests requiring waivers.
  • The USD (P&R) should modify DoD Instruction 1300.17 to allow waivers approved by Service Secretaries to remain in effect until revoked and, in coordination with the Office of General Counsel, publish guidance for adjudicating religious accommodation requests that seek the use of controlled substances.
  • Finally, the Army, Navy, and Air Force should include updated religious protections in their programs of instruction for officers and noncommissioned officers.

Objective 2

Results

Within the data we examined, we identified no instance in which a commander forced or attempted to force a chaplain to perform a service contrary to his or her conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs.

Recommendations

We made no recommendations relating to Objective 2.

Objective 3

Results

Our query of DoD and Military Department Inspectors General databases, including Combatant Command Inspectors General, yielded 232 contacts relating to religious rights of conscience for calendar years 2011 to 2014. We expanded our review to include databases from the Defense Privacy and Civil Liberties Division and the Equal Opportunity offices of the Military Services, yielding an additional 166 contacts for the same period, for a total of 398 contacts. We identified three issues concerning:

  • the suitability of contact data to understand departmental compliance with rights of conscience protections,
  • the lack of availability of kosher and halal foods in defense commissaries overseas, and
  • commanders’ response to service members’ use of social media for reporting of rights of conscience protection concerns.

Recommendations

We recommended that USD (P&R) should:

  • determine a more efficient and effective means of gauging and reporting the status of rights of conscience protections for service members,
  • determine a more effective method to match the availability of kosher and halal foods to demand overseas, and
  • develop a response kit that summarizes available resources and potential responses to the use of social media and other nonofficial reporting channels.

Management Comments and Our Response

We received comments from the Offices of the Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness; Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel; Chief of Naval Personnel; Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel, and Services; and the Air Force Office of the Inspector General. In addition, the Defense Privacy and Civil Liberties Division and the Department of Defense Office of General Counsel concurred with relevant recommendations, but did not provide comments. In response to comments from the Services’ Personnel Offices, we modified Recommendation 1.