Court Allows Navy Prayer Lawsuit to Proceed

The DC District Court recently provided yet another ruling in the decades-long litigation known as In Re: Navy Chaplaincy (PDF). (See prior discussions.) The case began many years ago with the underlying allegations that the US Navy discriminated against non-liturgical chaplains and favored liturgical chaplains. The case has wound its way up and down judicial channels in the ensuing years.

The most recent decision dismisses many of the claims, much of them due to time or mootness. It is interesting, though, which claims it allowed to continue [emphasis added]:

Plaintiff DeMarco alleges that he was criticized for ending his prayers “in Jesus name.” When he continued to pray “in accordance with his beliefs and religious tradition…the Liturgical command chaplain rated him in a way that made him noncompetitive for promotion…”

Plaintiff Stewart…allege[s] that he was reprimanded for praying “in Jesus’ name” and that after concluding a prayer with “I pray in the name of my Lord and my Savior,” he was relieved of his duties. The allegations of Plaintiffs DeMarco and Stewart are sufficient to show injury as a result of interference with prayer.

Greg Demarco reportedly retired from the Navy in 1998, and Gary Stewart appears to have retired in 2008.

To be clear, the court did not rule on the merits of the alleged “interference with prayer.” Rather, the judge stated that such an allegation constituted a judiciable “injury.”

While the case is “old,” some might argue the topic remains timely. Similar allegations were made in 2006 by then-Navy Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt, who was ultimately court-martialed for related issues.

It was only in 2008 that the Navy changed its official policies dictating the content of prayers (in SECNAVINST 1730.7D), and ongoing public issues might lead some to believe Navy leaders continue to operate under such “traditions” dictating religious exercise, even if the official policies were eliminated.

Via the Religion Clause.