Pentagon Investigators Weigh Review of Air Force Chaplain Chief

Dondi Costin gives the invocation during the 2009 Air Force Ball at Club Eifel, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nick Wilson)
Dondi Costin gives the invocation during the 2009 Air Force Ball at Club Eifel, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nick Wilson)

Pentagon investigators are weighing another review of the Air Force's chief of chaplains after a watchdog group criticized the service for failing to discipline the officer for giving a blessing during a religious-sponsored event, an official said.

But the Defense Department's Inspector General's Office has not opened a formal investigation, according to spokeswoman Kathie Scarrah.

"The DoD OIG is currently evaluating additional information received on behalf of the MRFF," she said in an email to Military.com on Friday. "A determination on re-opening an investigation has not been made at this time."

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an advocacy group that promotes civil rights, on July 25 penned a letter to the Pentagon's acting Inspector General Glenn A. Fine after the group discovered the service's chief of chaplains, Maj. Gen. Dondi Costin, offered a benediction at a July 12 "Torchbearer Award" ceremony in Washington D.C., while in uniform. The event was arranged by a private organization.

The letter, signed by the group's president Mikey Weinstein, stated Costin "blatantly violated both Air Force and DoD regulations prohibiting the endorsement of a non-federal entity by appearing in uniform and delivering the official benediction at a Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty (CARL) event."

Weinstein continued, "CARL is well known as a ragingly anti-LGBT organization which has a long, quite unapologetic and formidable history of homophobic behavior of the most repulsive nature and magnitude."

The event honored the award's recipient, Virginia Republican Rep. Randy Forbes, the outgoing congressman, of whom Weinstein pinpointed to be "the founder of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, a caucus that has repeatedly introduced vile legislation attempting to undermine the repeal of ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell'," among other "horrid goal[s]," he said.

The group noted that just because Costin is a chaplain, it does not excuse the standards all U.S. military officers are expected to abide by.

Army Maj. John Scott, also a chaplain, and the Air Force deputy chief of chaplains, Brig. Gen. Steven Schaick, were also singled out by Weinstein for attending the event, gesturing a potential endorsement of CARL.

But according to a letter response to Weinstein from Marguerite C. Garrison, deputy inspector general for administrative investigations, the initial investigation into the matter found Costin's actions to be fair.

"After conducting interviews and gathering additional facts, the Air Force IG found that Maj. Gen. Costin's benediction was a generic, non-sectarian prayer seeking God's blessing on the event's honoree, Congressman Randy Forbes," Garrison wrote in her statement, dated Nov. 1.

"The Air Force IG found no prima facie evidence that Maj. Gen. Costin endorsed CARL by appearing in uniform and performing the benediction, thereby implying Air Force sponsorship of CARL or sanction of a particular cause, or discrediting the Armed Forces," she said.

Garrison also relayed Costin did not violate Department of Defense or Air Force standards.

For the group, that was not enough.

Writing Fine once more, MRFF's lawyer, Donald G. Rehkopf Jr., with the Brenna Boyce law firm on Nov. 9 asked why the DoD IG's office has not directed an investigation into Costin's "overt, in uniform participation" in which he "gave CARL preferential treatment."

This "is nothing more than flaunting his decision to ignore the law," Rehkopf said of Costin.

"He may certainly maintain his personal religions beliefs, but when his actions and conduct violate the law, good order and discipline are diminished and harmed -- especially when it comes from someone with two Stars on their shoulders," he said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana 0214.

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