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Honoring 43 Years of Mission Readiness

Confidentiality and Privileged Communications



Service members and other authorized personnel may speak with a military chaplain and a chaplain’s assistant regarding any matter of conscience or a formal act of religion without fear of disclosure, in accordance with the following rules and regulations.

Manual for Courts Martial, Rule 503
A privileged communication is one made by a service member to a chaplain or chaplain's assistant that will not be disclosed in a court of law without specific permission from the service member. The parameters of the privilege are outlined in the MCM, Part III (Military Rules of Evidence), Section V (Privileges), Rule 503 (p. III-24). Service members should be aware that, to obtain the protection of the privilege, the communication made to the chaplain or chaplain's assistant must a) be made to the chaplain or chaplain's assistant in his or her official capacity; b) be intended to be a private communication; and 3) made as a matter of conscience or a formal act of religion.
    Manual for Courts Martial, Rule 503

Army
In September 2007, the Army Chief of Chaplains issued a Memorandum (Policy for Protection of Confidential Communications between Unit Ministry Team Members and Military Constituents) that contains clear guidance regarding the protection of confidential communications made to chaplains and their assistants.
    DACH-ZA, 25 September 2007

Navy
SECNAVINST 1730.9 (Confidential Communications to Chaplains) contains clear guidance regarding the protection of confidential communications made to chaplains and their assistants.

SECNAVINST 1730.7D (Religious Ministry within the Department of the Navy) cites the 1730.9 [Ref. (e) and section 5.e (a)]. Chaplain provided pastoral counseling is "distinguished by confidentiality."

OPNAVINST 1730.1D (Religious Ministry in the Navy), 5.e(6) enjoins commanders to ensure the protection of confidential and privileged communications within the context of religious ministries.
    OPNAVINST 1730.1D

Marine Corps
SECNAVINST 1730.9 (Confidential Communications to Chaplains) contains clear guidance regarding the protection of confidential communications made to chaplains and their assistants.

MCO 1730.6D (Command Religious Programs in the Marine Corps), section 6.b(3) enjoins commanders to ensure that chaplains are afforded office space separate from that of others, to allow for confidential communications with unit personnel.
    MCO 1730.6D

Air Force
AFI 152-101 (Chaplain: Planning and Organizing), section 4.1, provides extensive and clear instructions regarding confidential and privileged communications between chaplains and authorized personnel.
    AFI 152-101

Coast Guard
SECNAVINST 1730.9 (Confidential Communications to Chaplains) contains clear guidance regarding the protection of confidential communications made to chaplains and their assistants. The SECNAVINST applies to the Coast Guard when operating as a service in the Navy under U.S.C. 14, Part I, Chapter 1, § 3 (Relationship to Navy Department).

COMDTINST 1730.4B (Religious Ministries within the Coast Guard), section 6.e., cites the responsibility of chaplains to exercise "strict confidentiality."
    COMDTINST 1730.4B

Conscientious Objectors; mandatory chaplain interview
All hands should note that DOD Instruction 1300.06 (Conscientious Objectors), paragraph 7.2, specifically disallows privileged status to communications between a chaplain and service member that take place in the course of the mandatory interview during the conscientious objector application process:
"The chaplain should ensure the applicant is made aware that the conversation is not privileged and will be used in an official report."
 
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