The Effects of Recent Social Policy Changes on Select U.S. Army Chaplain Corps Activities and Attitudes

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2015

17 Pages, Grade: excellent


Executive Summary

The recent social policy changes (repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act) in the United States Armed Forces have been welcomed by some and have been a point of contention for others. Chaplains, in particular, have a great interest in these social policy changes as these clergy-in-uniform perform and provide religious support to soldiers and their families. I surveyed chaplains about their attitudes about these policy changes and perceptions of effects on their job performance and career decisions. The study adds to empirical research on the subject and provides data suggesting that the Army Chaplaincy could supply a portable model for balancing religious liberty and personal liberty in a Western pluralistic democracy, as well as implementing some public policy decisions.

This paper represents work done by a UNC-Chapel Hill Master of Public Administration graduate student. It is not a formal report of the School of Government, nor is it the work of School of Government faculty. This research paper is in no way associated with the U.S. government nor the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps. The author’s views are his own.


How will difficult public policy issues be handled in this nation? As Western democracies move further from a historic Judeo-Christian worldview and practice to a more self-consciously secularized ethical framework how will we move beyond the impasse that is left in the wake of such a seismic shift?[1] Are the so-called culture wars, really, a reflection of a nation trying to free itself from the resulting stalemate? These are questions not only for theologians, historians, ethicists, and sociologists, but, also, for civil servants, who, increasingly, find themselves having to implement public policy in the midst of this turbulent period.

The present research is about the implementation of a civilian public policy debate that spilled over into the military. Yet the question put in the research and the findings offered here transcend the particular issue and may possibly offer a way through the wilderness of change for others.

This research examines the effect of recent social policy changes[2] upon task cohesion-performance relationships[3] and outcomes on select activities among U.S. Army Chaplains.

The Problem

The singular problem presented is the difficulty of public policy (and the rights of those individuals for which the public policy exists) colliding with the religious liberty of others (and the rights they have and which they guard, as Chaplains). The problem is compounded in that events have moved rapidly.

Studies have shown that the social policy changes—the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on “Obergefell et al, v. Hodges, Ohio Department of Health et al”—have a mixed effect on commanders, officers, and Soldiers in military organizations,[4] but the evolution of the “broad social change” issues[5] suggest that additional studies are needed to explore how the social changes may be effecting the religious liberty-performance of military clergy—Chaplains.[6]


Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) was a policy decision instituted by the Clinton Administration on 21 December 1993 and remained operative in the Department of Defense (DOD) until 20 September 2011 when President Obama signed a certification that legislation overturning DADT would not harm military readiness.[7] The Defense of Marriage Act (21 September 1996) remained the policy of the DOD until the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Section 3 of DOMA in its judicial review, United States v. Windsor decision (26 June 2013). Finally, in Obergefell et al, v. Hodges, Ohio Department of Health the Roberts Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that same-sex couples have the right (based on due process and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution) to a civil marriage. Chaplains “perform or provide religious support that meets the spiritual and religious requirements of the unique military culture,”[8] including sacraments and religious ordinances that include marriage.[9] Thus, the court cases and resulting DOD policies impact the religious rite of matrimony conducted by Chaplain. Indeed, several cases involving religious liberty are, now, being adjudicated.[10]

What is the effect on Chaplain performance? Will this have an impact on Chaplain retention? This research aims to move beyond antidotal responses to qualitative and quantitative analysis of collected data.

The Research Question and Hypothesis

Therefore, the problem leads to the research question and a hypothesis:

Question: “What is the impact of recent social policy changes on select ministry activities of Chaplains in the United States Army?”

Hypothesis: “Recent social policy changes are producing mixed outcomes within select activities of the United States Army Chaplain Corps.”

Literature Review

One of the most recent works describing the effects of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell [11] was conducted by Aaron Belkin et al[12] and the Palm Center at UCLA School of Law.[13] This literature at UCLA Law School suggests that there were little actual differences from before to after the repeal of DADT. The research, also, found that there were some with lower morale and some with higher moral. The work of the Rand Corporation,[14] conducted for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), addressed the relevant issues surrounding definitions of marriage and its impact on military readiness. Kenneth Lasson, a professor at the Baltimore School of Law, has provided a study in religious liberty with the first Gulf War as his laboratory.[15] His work informs this study by virtue of its discussion of the extents of religious liberty in the United States Armed Forces. Belkin et Al in his “Readiness”[16] research,[17] following DADT, is a further basis of study into the issues surrounding retention and military preparedness after social policy change. The subject of marriage, definitions, and religious liberty is taken up by Bruce Hafen in his analysis[18] of relative case law. The work,[19] while dated, relative to the fast-paced metamorphosis of the marriage redefinition debate, nevertheless, is helpful to the present work in providing legal precedents that undergirded the courts until more recent years.

Articles, reports, and non-peer-reviewed material abounds on the subject and those such as "Same-sex Marriage Laws” National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) provided further insights for the research on the issues of our research at a state level. Two scholarly articles on the effects of social policy change from U.S. Coalition Partner, Canada, provide further depth for the study.[20] The impact on actual productivity of those impacted appears to remain the same even as morale becomes divided according to the level of concern over the social issues involved.

Army Regulation Publication 165-1[21] is the authoritative guide to U.S. Army Chaplain activities and, as such, remains the indispensable resource for any research on Chaplains. The Congressional Research publication, specifically, dealing with the repeal of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” (DADT) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) represents an early authoritative article in the fast-changing field.

In addition to the scholarly articles the research benefits from reports from the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty (CARL) have provided timely perspective from Chaplains in Roman Catholic and Evangelical backgrounds.[22] Daniel R. Dennison’s Leading Culture Change in Global Organizations: Aligning Culture and Strategy (2012) is a helpful book to read for the research. Amenta and Caren’s work on social policy is a further source of insight for the research.[23] Understanding morale, defining cohesion in organizations is an important study to define how morale is shaped within organizations.[24] Organizational resiliency is a key concept in moving from the presenting issues to deeper issues in this research.


The research was conducted using quantitative analysis.[25] Specifically, an online survey site[26] was created to study the independent variable (the defined social structure changes to the military) and the dependent variables (the measure of the Army Chaplains’ responses). This survey was made available to an appropriate sample size (respecting rank and religion) of Chaplains.

The research targeted a population (about 150) of Chaplains at the United States Army Chaplain Center and School and a smaller number (about 50) of others from various other locations[27] within the Chaplaincy. There are about 3,000[28] Chaplains serving in the U.S. Army Reserve. Using a confidence level of 95% and a confidence interval of 5 the survey will measure responses of a targeted population within the larger Corps of approximately 200 Chaplains. This survey included 14 survey statements seeking a response. Seventy-one Chaplains responded with completed surveys. The surveys are anonymous with participants identified only by a numeric value assigned randomly by the online instrument. The survey statements, formed from both points of view, and randomized in the actual online survey, focused on (1) the performance of select Chaplain tasks from January to June 2015 compared to the same time in 2014; (2) attitudes about the meaning of their vocation in the Army from the same time period; and, (3) thoughts and plans about future ministry (questions impacting retention). I used control variables within each set of questions, as well as correlation and regression analysis.[29]

Survey Design

The survey (Appendix 1) was designed using fourteen questions. The questions were aimed to elicit responses about Chaplain personal responses to social policy changes, its effect of select Chaplain activities, and effect it has on thinking about concluding service in the military (e.g., retiring early, resigning). Four question dealt with personal beliefs about the policies—instructions guided the respondents that SCOTUS decision, repeal of DADT and DOMA, as a single unit would be referred to as a single phrase throughout the survey—; seven questions were constructed to focus on select Chaplain religious support activities; and three questions dealt with career issues (conflict, thoughts of concluding one's career because of the social policy changes, and a personal perception that one must "keep a low-profile" to conduct ministry in the new environment.

Respondents were given a range of response possibilities from 1-5, with each numeric value representing a specific suggested response. For instance, "I believe that the repeal of DOMA was a mistake." The response choices were: (1) Not at all; (2) Perhaps; (3) I don't know; (4) I think it was; and (5) It was definitely a mistake. There were no open-ended questions.

The Results and Analysis

74 Chaplains responded to the survey. Key are shown in Appendix 1. The following analysis is offered.

Most Chaplains responding to the survey had strong feelings about the repeal of DADT (the question did not presume one position or the other). 51.35% responded "very much." 25.68% responded "definitely." In the case of DOMA the percentages were up as the question was framed towards eliciting a definite belief. 68.92% said that they believed that the repeal of DOMA was a mistake. 2.70% responded "not at all," 4.05% said "perhaps," and 5.41% responded "I don’t know." 18.92% believe that they "think it was" a mistake. Again, the percentages went up considerably on the next response. 90.54% responded that they were "most definitely" opposed to same-sex marriage (SSM) because of religious convictions. 0.00% responded that they were unopposed.


[1] For a review of how military ethicists teach, from traditional religious ethical grounds to civic grounds, see Paul Robinson, Nigel De Lee, and Don Carrick, Ethics Education in the Military (Aldershot, England: Ashgate Pub., 2008).

[2] This research confines itself to “broad social change” (Rand, 2010) concerned with issues surrounding sexual preference and redefinitions of marriage. See Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy: An Update (Prepared for the Secretary of Defense), Rand Corporation,, 2010, 69-90, accessed July 15, 2015, Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy: An Update (Prepared for the Secretary of Defense), Rand Corporation,, 2010, 69-90, accessed July 15, 2015,

[3] “Task cohesion is the shared commitment among members to achieving a goal that requires the collective efforts of the group” (Rand, 2010). This is contrasted with “social cohesion” (e.g., Beal et al., 2003). This research seeks to focus on the relationship of Chaplain performance of tasks for the shared goals of U.S. Army Chaplains rather than only social cohesion. See Daniel J. Beal et al., "Cohesion and Performance in Groups: A Meta-Analytic Clarification of Construct Relations,"Journal of Applied Psychology 86, no. 6 (December 2003), accessed July 15, 2015,

[4] Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy: An Update (Prepared for the Secretary of Defense), Rand Corporation,, 2010, 297, 309; accessed July 15, 2015.

[5] Ibid., 90.

[6] The Chief of Chaplains of the U.S. Army has provided editorial guidance concerning the use of the words “Chaplain,” “Soldier or Soldiers,” and “Families.” These words should always be capitalized for the sake of honor. Since the student is a U.S. Army Chaplain engaged in his senior office education this research paper follows the Army usage of “Chaplain,” “Solider,” and “Families.”

[7] See pp. 39-68, “The History of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’” in Rand, 2010.

[8] United States Army. Army Chaplain Corps Activities. Army Regulation 165-1:2-3. Washington D.C.: Headquarters, Department of the Army, 03 December 2009; and "Activists Call for Ouster of Chaplains from Military."Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, July 02, 2015. Accessed July 15, 2015. doi:10.1057/9781137025166.0011.

[9] The theme of ecclesiastical and civil marriage set against the backdrop of this contemporary debate is explored in Joel Nichols, "Marriage: Civil, Religious, Contractual, And More,"Family Court Review 50, no. 2 (2012), doi:10.1111/j.1744-1617.2012.01446.x.

[10] See, e.g., "Decorated Chaplain Who Served with Navy SEALs Faces Investigation for following His Faith,"The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, March 31, 2015, Press Release, accessed July 15, 2015, doi:10.4135/9781483302768.n53.

[11] “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is the common term for the policy and federal statute created under President Bill Clinton in 1993” (Belkin et Al, One Year Out, 2015; page 10).

[12] Aaron Belkin. "One Year Out: An Assessment of DADT Repeal’s Impact on Military Readiness."University of Palm Center, California at Los Angles School of Law: Blueprints for Sound Public Policy, September 20, 2012. Accessed July 28, 2015.

[13] See Belkin et Al, One Year Out, 2015.

[14] See Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy: An Update (Prepared for the Secretary of Defense), Rand Corporation,, 2010, 69-90, accessed July 15, 2015.

[15] Kenneth Lasson. "Religious Liberty in the Military: The First Amendment under 'Friendly Fire'"Religious Liberty in the Military: The First Amendment under 'Friendly Fire' 9.2 (1992): 471-99. Social Science Research Network. Journal of Law and Religion, 16 July 2008. Web. 28 July 2015.

[16] Belkin, A., M. G. Ender, N. Frank, S. R. Furia, G. Lucas, G. Packard, S. M. Samuels, T. Schultz, and D. R. Segal. "Readiness and DADT Repeal: Has the New Policy of Open Service Undermined the Military?"Armed Forces & Society 39, no. 4 (2012): 587-601. doi:10.1177/0095327x12466248.

[17] Belkin et Al, “Readiness,” Armed Forces and Society, 2012.

[18] Bruce C. Hafen, 1983. The constitutional status of marriage, kinship, and sexual privacy: Balancing the individual and social interests. Michigan Law Review 81 (3) (Jan.): 463-574,

[19] Hafen, “Constitutional Status of Marriage,” 1983.

[20] B. A. Robinson. "Effects of Same-sex Marriage on Canadian Culture." Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. November 20, 2005. Accessed July 15, 2015.

[21] AR 165-1, 2009.

[22] See, e.g., "Culture War in the Chaplain Corps."Military Chaplains and Religious Diversity, July 25, 2012. Accessed November 25, 2015. doi:10.1057/9781137025166.0011.

[23] Amenta and Caren, Annual Review of Sociology, 2001.

[24] See Beale et Al, Cohesion, 2003.

[25] For a further review of the growing use of this research in government social science research see Harry Alpert, "The Government's Growing Recognition of Social Science, “Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 327, no. Perspectives on Government and Science (January 01, 1960), accessed November 23, 2015,

[26] The specific research is located at

[27] Including the Presbyterian and Reformed Commission on Chaplains, and a random listing of National Guard Chaplains from all denominations on a Chaplain Facebook site.

[28] Chaplains, like the Medical Services Corps and the Judge Advocate General Corps, are commissioned officers who are credentialed by outside professional and, in the case of Chaplains, Department of Defense recognized ecclesiastical judicatories. These judicatories are called “endorsing agents.” The number of Chaplains on active duty varies from month to month based on retirement, resignation of commission, and the accession of new Chaplains into the Corps. There are approximately 3,000 Chaplains serving in the U.S. Army, Army Reserve, and National Guard, as of this writing. The number is fluid because of the ordinary dynamic of human capital management in the military.

[29] For further study on regression analysis from surveys, see, e.g., D. Holt, "Regression Analysis of Data from Complex Surveys,"Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series A (General) 143, no. 4 (1980), accessed November 23, 2015,

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The Effects of Recent Social Policy Changes on Select U.S. Army Chaplain Corps Activities and Attitudes
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill  (School of Government)
Public Policy
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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This was research that was subsequently used in several organizations, including the United States Chaplain Center and School.
public policy, U.S. Army, Public Administration, Social policy, U.S.A. politics, Social sciences, Research studies
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Dr. Michael A. Milton (Author), 2015, The Effects of Recent Social Policy Changes on Select U.S. Army Chaplain Corps Activities and Attitudes, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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