The admiral in charge of the Navy's Mid-Atlantic Region and other Navy officials exchanged thousands of pages of e-mails about how to handle a chaplain charged with disobeying an order by appearing in uniform at a protest outside the White House, the chaplain's attorneys told a military judge Monday.
Lt. Gordon J. Klingenschmitt, an Evangelical Episcopal priest assigned to Norfolk Naval Station, contends the Navy is punishing him for praying in Jesus' name at the March 30 event, a political news conference to protest Navy policy requiring nondenominational prayers outside of religious services.
Last December, Klingenschmitt began an 18-day hunger strike in front of the White House over the right to invoke Jesus' name outside such services.
The chaplain's lawyers want the judge to compel the Navy to turn over the e-mails about Klingenschmitt as evidence at his court-martial Sept. 11. They also want the judge to remove Rear Adm. Frederic R. Ruehe, commander of the Mid-Atlantic-Region, from having authority over the case, arguing that he is not impartial.
"We believe he is very intimately involved in issues involving Chaplain Klingenschmitt," to the point that Navy public affairs officers gave Ruehe daily briefings on Klingenschmitt's activities, William J. Holmes, the chaplain's civilian defense attorney, said at Monday's pretrial hearing.
Holmes said he has requested e-mails from last December to the present but so far only has a two-inch stack of e-mails from three weeks. He said the Navy wanted $47,000 for the rest of the e-mails.
In one e-mail, Holmes said Adm. Christopher E. Weaver, then commander of Navy installations, wrote to Ruehe, "We don't need this guy having press conferences out in the community." Another e-mail said, according to Holmes, "We hope this person doesn't drag the rest of the institution through the political mud."
Weaver was Ruehe's boss. Holmes said Ruehe's responses to Weaver were blacked out.
The military judge, Navy Cmdr. Lewis T. Booker, did not immediately rule on the requests.
Military prosecutors say the e-mails are unnecessary.
Ruehe did not testify Monday but Capt. Loyd E. Pyle Jr., commander of Norfolk Naval Station, said under cross-examination by military prosecutors that "all the correspondence I saw was situational awareness." Pyle brought the charge against Klingenschmitt.
Pyle said that last December, he ordered Klingenschmitt not to wear his uniform during any media appearances without first receiving permission after Klingenschmitt said he planned to go on conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly's television program.
In a letter to Klingenschmitt in January after the chaplain sought clarification of the order, Pyle wrote that it was clear the chaplain had intended to appear on the program "to support personal or partisan views on political, social and religious issues."
The letter also said Klingenschmitt could wear his uniform if conducting a "bona fide worship service." Klingenschmitt contends the March news conference qualified as such.
‘Mugged for the cameras’
Pyle testified in response to questioning by Holmes that even though Klingenschmitt changed into civilian clothes before talking to reporters, he remained on the podium after saying a prayer and "stood up and mugged for the cameras to be part of this."
Klingenschmitt was charged in April. The Navy later referred the charges to a special court-martial after Klingenschmitt refused the option to resolve the allegation at an administrative disciplinary hearing.
Maximum punishment would be forfeiture of two-thirds pay per month for one year and a reprimand. A special court-martial does not have the power to discharge an officer.