Imposing a new values test on military chaplains

12 May 2022
A comment on the Advisory Report that recommends exclusion in the name of diversity for Canada’s military chaplaincy

An advisory panel submitted a report on systemic racism and discrimination to the national defence minister in January. The panel looked at the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. One of the report’s recommendations on military chaplaincy has received broad condemnation, and rightly so.

It advocates discrimination against certain faith groups.

Canadian military chaplains provide pastoral services to those of any and no belief. They provide support during significant life events, refer military personnel and their families to other caring professions, officiate at ceremonies and advise on spiritual accommodation matters.
In a section on chaplaincy, the report states, “at present, some chaplains represent or are affiliated with organized religions whose beliefs are not synonymous with those of a diverse and inclusive workplace. Some of the affiliated religions of these chaplains do not subscribe to an open attitude and the promotion of diversity.”

It goes on to recommend: "Do not consider for employment as spiritual guides or multi-faith representatives Chaplaincy applicants affiliated with religious groups whose values are not aligned with those of the Defence Team."
The report identifies religious groups that do not ordain women, that are against equal rights for same sex couples, or that refuse positions of leadership to marginalized people. The advisory group contends that the Canadian Armed Forces cannot be supportive of inclusivity if it employs chaplains of these faith traditions.

Even chaplains that express non-adherence with their faith group on these matters would be excluded from employment, which underlines that it is the faith traditions that are being targeted, not just the chaplains.
There are many chaplains serving from Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim faith groups. In fact the majority of serving chaplains are from faith groups the report deems unacceptable.
Many who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces, like citizens in the general population, are adherents of traditions that would fall within the ambit of this report. The Canadian Armed Forces reflects the diversity of Canadians. Should all who belong to these faith traditions also be excluded from serving in the military in any capacity?
Is it competency to provide solace and spiritual care as a chaplain that is the grounds for employment, or one’s religious tradition? The advisory panel is advocating a religious test for employment in a branch of the government. In the name of inclusivity, they seek to reduce the diversity and inclusivity of the chaplaincy, and demand exclusion.
This recommendation clearly violates The Charter of Rights and Freedom and its guarantees of freedom of conscience, religion, and assembly, and the Canadian Human Rights Act which prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. These are intended to provide protection from religious discrimination. The report recommends the opposite – that they be discriminated against on the basis of their religious tradition.  
The Defence Team plans to establish a working group to address all of the report’s recommendations and to develop an implementation framework and action plan. The press secretary for the minister of national defence is quoted as writing in an email to the National Post: “For many decades, chaplains from a wide range of faiths have served the members of the Canadian Armed Forces, and will continue to do so in the years to come. Minister Anand believes that the chaplaincy should represent Canada’s diversity, uphold the values and principles of the military, and provide CAF members with access to spiritual or religious guidance if they seek it, regardless of their faith.”
The chaplain general, in his reply, noted that the chaplaincy has already taken steps to address issues of inclusion and diversity that are noted in the other recommendations on chaplaincy. He also said a diverse chaplaincy will have more, not fewer faith traditions.
Canadian chaplains are trained to serve in one multifaith chaplaincy (chaplains of diverse faith traditions serve on the same base together). Canada’s multifaith approach to military chaplaincy is unique among other countries globally. It is a model of how chaplaincy can be done in a military that serves an armed forces and a country of deep religious plurality; chaplains drawn from many faith traditions serving together to care for all, regardless of their beliefs.

[Editor's note: Related news at July 1, 2022 reports "the minister’s spokesperson said the Defence Team is not planning to limit the religious denominations that can serve as chaplains"]
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