- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2003


The Navy is investigating whether superior officers retaliated against a Southern Baptist chaplain who discussed a religious discrimination lawsuit on a television news program.

Lt. Cmdr. David Wilder’s complaint to the Navy’s inspector general contends a high-ranking officer tried last year to have criminal charges brought against him after he discussed the lawsuit on Fox News Channel.

Officials never brought charges, but they did order Cmdr. Wilder not to talk to reporters while in uniform, said his attorney, Arthur Schulcz.

Cmdr. Wilder’s complaint says he also received a poor job evaluation and a demotion to a junior officer’s assignment months after the interview.

“You put all those things together and it looks like retaliation,” said Mr. Schulcz, the Virginia lawyer representing Cmdr. Wilder and other plaintiffs in the discrimination case.

Mr. Schulcz said Navy investigators have interviewed Cmdr. Wilder as part of their probe of his complaint.

Marine Sgt. Spencer Harris, a spokesman at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where Cmdr. Wilder works, said, “A complaint was initiated and is being looked into.” He would not comment on details.

Mr. Schulcz contended the officer who demanded a criminal probe of Cmdr. Wilder after his TV appearance was Rear Adm. Louis Iasiello, now the Navy’s chief of chaplains.

Lt. Jon Spires, a spokesman for the chaplain corps headquarters, said neither he nor Adm. Iasiello would comment on an ongoing investigation.

Cmdr. Wilder is one of dozens of evangelical Protestant chaplains suing the Navy, claiming the chaplain corps discriminates against evangelicals and in favor of Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant chaplains. The plaintiffs say evangelicals were passed over for promotions, ordered to change their worship services and drummed out of the Navy.

The Navy denies the discrimination claims.

The television interview came after a federal judge approved the lawsuit as a class action, meaning Mr. Schulcz could represent all evangelical Protestant chaplains in the Navy.

Cmdr. Wilder said he joined the lawsuit after being passed over for promotion several times.

On “Fox Special Report” in August 2002, a reporter quoted Cmdr. Wilder as saying the Navy created a hostile work environment for some other chaplains involved in the lawsuit.

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