U.S. Army Chaplain Corps History
The Continental Congress established chaplains as an integral part of the Continental Army on July 29th, 1775. Over the years, more than 25,000 chaplains have served in the U.S. Army as religious leaders for Soldiers and Family members. From military installations to deployed combat units, chaplains and chaplain assistants perform their ministries in the most religiously diverse organization in the world.
Always present with Soldiers in war and in peace, Army chaplains have served in all of America's major wars and combat engagements from the colonial era through the present day. Nearly 300 Army chaplains have laid down their lives in battle. Seven members of the Chaplain Corps have been awarded the Medal of Honor. Currently, more than 3,000 chaplains serve the Total Army representing 140 different religious organizations.
For a more comprehensive history, click here [link to separate PDF file]
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits enactment of any law “respecting an establishment of religion “or” prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Establishment Clause forbids any governmental authority from mandating a religion or way of prayer. The Free Exercise Clause guarantees individuals the right to practice what their religion requires and conscience dictates.
Congress recognizes the necessity of the Chaplain Corps in striking a balance between these two clauses. In the pluralistic religious setting of the military, the Chaplain Corps provides opportunities for religious support for individuals from all religious backgrounds. Chaplains cooperate with each other, without compromising their faith tradition or ecclesiastical endorsement requirements, to provide comprehensive religious support within the unique military environment.
Public law requires chaplains to conduct religious services for personnel of their assigned command. Title 10, United States Code (USC), Section 3073 (10 USC 3073), Section 3547 (10 USC 3547), and Section 3581 (10 USC 3581), establishes the position of chaplain in the Army and, together with regulations promulgated by the Secretary of the Army, prescribes the duties of that position. This statutory authority requires commanders to furnish facilities and transportation for chaplains to perform their duty.