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RTC OK's civilian religious leaders after backlash

Recruit Training Command has reversed course on its controversial move to bar civilian volunteer religious leaders from conducting services for recruits at boot camp.

Four of the volunteers, representing the Unitarian Universalist, Baha'i, Buddhist and Christian Scientist faiths, have been granted permission to resume conducting services for Navy recruits. Meanwhile, uniformed personnel have been found to lead worship for recruits who follow the Church of Christ or earth-centered faith traditions. The civilian volunteers who led those services will not continue to do so.

"To best meet the religious needs of their Sailors, Recruit Training Command (RTC) will continue to work with civilian volunteers in support of the Command Religious Program," said Cmdr. Chris Servello, a spokesman for the chief of naval personnel, in a May 14 statement provided to Navy Times. "The recent changes instituted at RTC allowed the Commanding Officer needed time to reset in order to ensure practices were meeting recruit needs and were in line with Navy policy.

"Consistent with that policy, RTC supports religious needs through all available means to include chaplains, accredited uniformed volunteers, contract clergy, and civilian volunteers as needed."

The April 3 move by RTC commanding officer Capt. Douglas Pfeifle to exclude the civilian religious leaders had been condemned by an unlikely alliance — Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and retired Army Chaplain (Col.) Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, who are typically at odds regarding issues of military religious expression.

Crews welcomed the Navy's decision.

"Religious liberty must be protected for service members of all faiths," he stated in a press release. "The Navy's decision to terminate religious volunteers who were tending primarily to sailors of minority faiths was a clear violation of regulations, federal law, and the Constitution itself. We commend Navy officials for recognizing their error and ensuring religious liberty for recruits of all faiths at the RTC."

Weinstein was also pleased by the move.

"I congratulate the Navy senior leadership for reversing course here and setting their sights on supporting the U.S. Constitution," Weinstein told the Chicago Tribune. "At the same time, I don't want to be overzealous in congratulating them because they were heading for a train wreck in federal court."

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