A prominent right-wing legal advocacy group is assisting an Army chaplain at Fort Hood, Texas, as he appeals an official reprimand he received for a social media post denigrating transgender troops.
Chaplain Maj. Andrew Calvert came under command investigation in January after he commented on a news article about Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s support for President Joe Biden ending a service ban on transgender people.
“How is rejecting reality (biology) not evidence that a person is mentally unfit (ill), and thus making that person unqualified to serve,” Calvert wrote in a Jan. 28 comment under the story on Army Times’ Facebook page. “There is little difference in this than over those who believe and argue for a ‘flat earth,’ despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”
“The motivation is different,” Calvert continued, “but the argument is the same. This person is a MedBoard for Mental Wellness waiting to happen. What a waste of military resources and funding!”
The Facebook post and subsequent Army investigation by Calvert’s unit — 3rd Security Force Assistance Brigade — garnered national headlines after Army Times first reported the inquiry.
An Army Regulation 15-6 investigation concluded that Calvert violated Army policy on discrimination and prohibitions against online misconduct, as well as a Defense Department directive regulating political speech by active-duty troops, according to an appeal written by attorney Michael Berry of First Liberty Institute, which is backing Calvert.
The Army investigator recommended Calvert receive a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand for his social media conduct, which III Corps commander Lt. Gen. Robert White signed April 22.
The post was made Monday in a story about President Joe Biden planning to end a service ban on transgender people.
Army Times obtained a copy of the GOMOR, which is still within its appeal period. White has not yet determined whether it will be permanently included in Calvert’s military record.
“You are hereby reprimanded for violating military equal opportunity policy and violating Department of Defense policy on political activities,” said White in the GOMOR. “Your actions cast serious doubt upon your character and future as a leader in the Army.”
The post and investigation
Berry’s letter, written Wednesday, asks White to reconsider the reprimand, claiming that “issuing a GOMOR against a chaplain in retaliation for his expression of his sincerely held religious beliefs is unconstitutional, and violates DoD and U.S. Army regulations.”
“Chaplain Calvert expressed his support for DOD policy at the time, consistent with his sincerely held religious beliefs and the teachings of his denomination,” said Berry in an email to Army Times. “That is always religious exercise that is protected by the Constitution and federal law.”
Berry argued in the appeal letter and an enclosed rebuttal memorandum that Calvert was merely expressing his “sincerely held religious beliefs” as a religious leader. Berry also emphasized that Calvert had a disclaimer on his Facebook profile stating that all posts reflected the chaplain’s personal views alone.
But in making the decision to recommend punishment, the investigating officer also pointed to other Facebook posts that Calvert had made, though it was not immediately clear what each of those posts were or what they contained.
Army Times has not seen the investigation report and First Liberty declined to immediately share it, citing the need to redact personal information from the document.
The appeal letter did reference one other social media post by name — “11 Reasons Why Christians Should Vote for Trump.”
Berry argued that “as a Christian chaplain, Chaplain Calvert is permitted to speak publicly on a matter of public concern to Christians. And the Constitution, federal law, and DoD regulations all prohibit the Army from discriminating against him when he does so.”
The appeal letter also argued that the Army applied incorrect legal standards in finding that Calvert violated regulations.
III Corps senior spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III said the Army’s 15-6 investigation was initiated after a complaint was made to the office of the inspector general.
“Calvert was provided full due process and given the opportunity to submit matters to the Investigating Officer,” Caggins said in an emailed statement. “Calvert’s command, after carefully considered the findings of the investigation and all matters submitted by [Calvert], took appropriate administrative action.”
A matter of opinion
The highly publicized appeal comes amid a flurry of sticky cases where the military is trying to enforce the limits of social media and political speech for service members.
A senior noncommissioned officer assigned to U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa is facing a commander’s inquiry after posting an “old school rant” disparaging women wearing ponytails in uniform.
A master sergeant's social media post implying that female soldiers with ponytails will be looked upon less favorably for promotions is being reviewed by his commander.
A Colorado National Guard officer is also currently suing his chain of command after he received a permanently filed GOMOR for participating in Black Lives Matter protests and publishing opinion articles about his experiences. The case is currently awaiting a response from the government in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
And in October, the Army confirmed it was investigating a battalion commander for a series of political posts he made on Facebook while deployed to the Middle East. Two of his soldiers were previously punished for making an inappropriate political TikTok video while on-duty.
Military Times managing editor Howard Altman contributed reporting.