Military Chaplains Sue After Being Ordered Not to Quote Bible, Pray in Jesus’ Name

VA San Diego ssSAN DIEGO — Two California chaplains have filed suit against the secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), alleging that they had been forced out of a training and placement program because of their Christian faith.

Chaplains Major Steven Firtko and Lieutenant Commander Dan Klender state that they were repeatedly harassed and threatened while enrolled in the San Diego Clinical Pastoral Education Center program last fall and winter. The men claim that their instructor/supervisor, Nancy Dietsch, hassled them throughout their time at the center over their Biblical beliefs.

Firtko and Klender outline that they were informed during the classroom instruction period that both Dietsch and the VA “do not allow chaplains to pray in Jesus’ name in public ceremonies.” When they attempted to quote Scripture during class discussions, they were personally reprimanded.

“Ms. Dietsch informed the class she believes God could be a man or woman. Chaplain Firtko [then] recited the Lord’s Prayer, stating, ‘Our Father, who art in Heaven,'” the lawsuit states. “In response, Ms. Dietsch angrily pounded her fist on the table and shouted, ‘Do not quote Scripture in this class!’”

“Ms. Dietsch insisted that evolution was fact and that she believed mankind evolved. Chaplain Firtko stated he believed in the Genesis statement that ‘[i]n the beginning, God created the Heavens and Earth,'” it alleges. “In response, Ms. Dietsch pounded her fist on the table and ordered Chaplain Firtko to not quote Scripture in the classroom, stating [that] it made her feel like she had been ‘pounded over the head with a sledge hammer.’”

On another occasion, Klender stated that he was belittled in front of the class for his Christian beliefs.

“When Chaplain Klender responded to a question during a group discussion regarding the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, CT by stating he would tell a parent whose child was a victim by stating that ‘there is evil in the world,’ Ms. Dietsch impugned his core faith beliefs stating they would not work in a clinical setting,” the suit outlines. “In the presence of the other students she said, ‘You don’t actually believe that do you?’”

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The men also allege that they were informed that chaplains “do not belong in this program” who “believe your beliefs are right, and everyone else’s is wrong.”

Klender withdrew from the program, and Firtko was put on a six-week probation period after being threatened with dismissal. Firtko was eventually let go after Dietsch stated that the “probation period is not yielding the results we both desire.”

In July of this year, Firtko and Klender filed a complaint along with their sponsor, the Conservative Baptist Association of America, but after not obtaining relief, the men turned to the organization Military Veteran’s Advocacy (MVA) in Slidell, Louisiana for help. The lawsuit filed this month by the MVA seeks an injunction against the Department of Veterans Affairs —that the court prevent discrimination against Christian chaplains and that the men be reinstated into the program.

“Nobody, especially anyone in the armed forces or working for the federal government, should ever be required or coerced to abandon their religious beliefs,” attorney John B. Wells told NBC San Diego.

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  • Elon Morley

    Neil, I appreciate where you are coming from. But it seems there are some contradictions of terms here. According to the article, the course was for a “Clinical Pastoral Education” program, yet the instructor reportedly said that Chaplains weren’t welcome. What’s wrong with this picture? You suggest that the instructor has “different (but also Christian) ideas.” From what the article tells us, what specifics would you point to that indicate she has “Christian” ideas? You claim the 2 men weren’t “learning” and that they “shouted” Bible verses at the instructor. Where did you find that in the article? I don’t think you’re nearly as objective as you would have us believe. It seems to me that it shouldn’t be objectionable to have some reference to Scripture in a “pastoral education” program. But the instructor wanted NONE. I don’t know if they were being obnoxious or not (you could hardly gather that from what’s reported here). But it was pretty clear that the instructor would brook no notions besides her own. I have a hard time finding her 2 students at greater fault.

    • beeman


  • Nabuquduriuzhur

    It’s hard to believe that we’ve gone this far down into the pit. Even the National Socialists in WWII didn’t prevent their Christian and Catholic chaplains from preaching to troops in the Wehrmacht. And a lot of work they had to do to get those saved that they could. (The SS might well have been different, because the SS had it’s own hoky “nordic” religion based on Germanic myths, Marx, and Nietzche.)

  • HappyClinger

    “The men also allege that they were informed that chaplains ‘do not belong in this program’ who ‘believe your beliefs are right, and everyone else’s is [sic] wrong.’

    Pot, meet kettle. She’s right – but SHE’s the one who doesn’t belong in that class.

  • Kenneth

    A Buddhist or a Wiccan wouldn’t be dropped from the class. Because they don’t profess the name of Jesus Christ. It seems you don’t understand that people who follow Christ, are bound by a higher law, God’s law. And it also seems apparent that from your statements that man’s laws supersede God’s laws. You’ve got the cart before the horse. Whether you agree or not, like it or not, God Almighty is the supreme authority, PERIOD. When someone like ‘”Ms. Dietsch” tells these chaplains that they can’t pray in the name of Jesus, or they can’t quote scripture, she is violating their free speech rights and their religious rights. But most of all, she is commanding them to disobey God himself. Jesus Christ himself said: “If you deny me before men, I will deny you before my Father in heaven”. Bottom line, there are many laws that VIOLATE God’s law’s, such is the case here. Telling a Christian that he must embrace homosexuality and the teaching of evolution is telling him that that he must disobey God. And you, or “Ms. Dietsch”, or any other human being or institution on planet Earth do not have the right or authority to force anyone to do something that violates their conscience and beliefs. Don’t use the argument “Don’t force your beliefs on me”. Doesn’t work in the real world. As soon as you tell me I can’t follow Christ the way He commands me too, you are forcing YOUR BELIEFS on me. These chaplains answer to God first. Not to the government, or “Ms. Dietsch”, or you, or anybody else. If you don’t like it or agree with it, take it up with God, the Creator and Absolute Authority over mankind. Like the saying goes “Whenever you find yourself arguing with God, guess who’s wrong?”

    It obvious Niel cares more about being politically correct then Biblically correct. There was nothing the chaplains did that violated God’s word. Regardless of your profession of faith Niel, your words contradict…

  • Dan Klender

    Thanks for the well written and thoughtful article! Much appreciated!
    Dan Klender

  • Jonclyde

    It is so sad that so many of us Christians as so ready to pick a fight. We will fall into the trap time after time when we fell our Lord has been offended. We forget this battle is not ours to fight.
    Were the parameters of the course laid out as to what was acceptable for course discussion? Sometimes we forget. The course instructor has the authority and responsibility to set these in place at he onset of the instruction period. I believe she did this. Her frustration may have been caused by the continued efforts of the Chaplains involved to force their faith on her. As Chaplains is not your responsibility to see to the spiritual health of those that seek it? In counseling a person are you helping that person what are you trying to accomplish? Has your client asked for the instruction in the ways of Jesus or are you giving that client the Riot Act for there dilemma?
    There is no clinical absolute as to when as a Christian Chaplain you have the right to give the Gospel, but there is the responsibility to be Christlike in your discussion with the client. Listen to what the client is saying. Is the client seeking Jesus as the answer? You are called to be witness, be a witness of Christ’s love, not the Sword of Scripture. Save this for one who needs it, not the broken person.

  • Karate Kathleen

    It sounds to me like the woman/supervisor has some issues herself. Like loosing her temper,pounding her fist on the table and shouting because some of her subordinates expressed a different viewpoint than hers makes her sound like she can’t keep herself under control and is obsessed with things being her way only. She just doesn’t sound emotionally stable to me. I hope they look into this and maybe consider replacing her for someone more in control of their emotions.

  • leviguy1947

    What is the status of this law suit?