When the federal shutdown hit last October, Catholic chaplains were barred from entering military bases, depriving active-duty troops and their families of Catholic mass and other services. Now, a New Jersey-based priest who filed a lawsuit against the Department of Defense is pressing on to protect chaplains from being furloughed during future federal closures.
The Star Ledger reported that Rev. Ray Leonard, a chaplain assigned to the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia, filed the lawsuit Oct. 14, claiming that the cancelation of religious services violated his freedom of speech. He ultimately won the lawsuit, as the Pentagon lifted the furlough on the chaplains a day later. However, the news outlet stated that Leonard is determined to take the lawsuit further.
"I've lived under a system where somebody else dictated to you when, where, how and what type of religious service you can have — or not have — and I'm not going to come home to my country and call it the land of the free and the home of the brave and allow anyone to tell me, 'You can't have church this weekend,'" Leonard told the news source.
According to the Archdiocese for the Military Services, Catholic chaplains who provide religious services at military installations are employed as federal contractors, which means that their jobs are currently not exempt from furloughs during government shutdowns. The archdiocese added that there is currently a shortage of Catholic priests in the military, with only 234 active-duty priests serving 275,000 servicemembers.