Catholic Chaplain Sues US Military for Right to Minister

Catholic priest Father Ray Leonard has filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Defense and the Navy for prohibiting him from ministering to the military community at the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia.  Leonard is a civilian contractor who had been hired to begin his service on 1 October 2013.

The priest was one of thousands of civilian military employees and contractors furloughed because of the failure of Congress to reach a deal on funding the federal government. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has since recalled some Defense Department workers, but civilian military chaplains were excluded.

The lawsuit seeks a judgment that would prevent the DoD from applying the Anti-Deficiency Act to Leonard’s ministry — meaning he could voluntarily provide free services to the Catholic community, even while the government is “shut down.”  As written, the Anti-Deficiency Act prohibits the government from “accepting” voluntary services.

The “Pay Our Military Act” explicitly authorized the DoD to pay civilians and contractors who the Secretary of Defense determined “are providing support to members of the Armed Forces.”  Secretary Chuck Hagel determined that meant those

whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities, and readiness of covered military members

The lawsuit points out the DoD must have decided chaplains did not “contribute to the moral [and] well-being” of the miltary, as they were not included in the mass return to work by other contractors and civilians.

The US Senate passed an amended version of a House resolution — a non-binding “sense” of Congress — that encouraged the military to allow chaplains to serve.  According to the AP, Senator Carl Levin (D-Mi) added language

expressing Congress’ hope that the defense secretary could figure out how to pay contractor clergy.

The change forces the non-binding bill back to the House.  Coincidentally, Father Leonard is a case study for that bill.

The self-proclaimed leader of religious freedom in the US military, the “Military Religious Freedom Foundation,” has remained silent even as the chaplains were furloughed.

Also at CNS News.