SAN DIEGO — A lawsuit filed on behalf of a Baptist organization charges that a leader of a training program for the Department of Veteran Affairs discriminated against two military chaplains because of their Christian beliefs.
The suit was filed on behalf of Maj. Steven Firtko, U.S. Army (Ret.), and Lt. Cmdr. Dan Klender of the U.S. Navy. Both entered a San Diego-based Department of Veterans Affairs chaplain-training program in August 2012.
The suit charges that the program’s supervisor, Nancy Dietsch, began to harass the chaplains about their beliefs. The suit says that she admonished them not to pray in the name of Jesus in public ceremonies or cite Scripture in class.
According to the suit, she sometimes pounded her fists on her desk and accused the chaplains of not caring about Veterans Affairs patients and other military members.
She allegedly threatened to fail them and openly ridiculed them and their beliefs in class.
Klender withdrew from the program, saying it was solely due to the supervisor’s harassment. Firtko was placed on probation and notified he would be dismissed from the program.
Dietsch claims the two men were bullying other classmates and refusing to honor other faith groups, NBC 7 San Diego reports. The Veterans Affairs Department stated the supervisor is required to follow the Veterans Affairs handbook.
Military Veterans Advocacy filed the suit against Secretary of Veterans Affairs Erich Shinseki, acting on behalf of the Conservative Baptist Association of America. The Baptist organization is the endorsing agent for the two chaplains.
“Not only was the treatment these men received inappropriate, it was also a violation of federal law and the religious-freedom guarantees of the First Amendment,” said J.B. Wells, a retired U.S. Navy commander and executive director of Military Veterans Advocacy, Nov. 8.
“No American choosing to serve in the armed forces should be openly ridiculed for his Christian faith, and that is most obviously true for chaplains participating in a chaplain-training program.”