- (Photo: Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty)
The federal government reversed a decision to deny certain priests the ability to hold religious services on military bases after being faced with a lawsuit.
As The Christian Post reported earlier this month, certain priests who were under contract to provide religious services on military bases were not allowed to do so because of the government shutdown.
On Monday, the Thomas More Law Center sued in federal court on behalf of Father Ray Leonard and one of his parishoners, Fred Naylor. By Tuesday afternoon, attorneys for the Department of Justice contacted TMLC to say that Leonard would be allowed to offer religious services at the military base where he works, Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia.
Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, said that, even though the government relented, the lawsuit would continue so that the situation will not occur during any future government shutdowns.
"The actions of the federal government were a blatant attack on religious liberty," he said. "I would never have imagined that our government would ever bar Catholic priests from saying Mass under threat of arrest and prevent Catholics from participating in their religious exercises. Allowing the chapel doors to open and Father Leonard to fulfill his priestly responsibilities does not erase the constitutional violations that occurred. We don't want this to occur again the next time there is a government shutdown. Our lawsuit will continue."
Furloughed priests offered their services for free during the shutdown, but under the law, could have technically been arrested for doing so. Many of them arranged to continue their services off-base during the shutdown. The U.S. House passed a bill, 400-1, that would have allowed the furloughed priests to continue on a volunteer basis. The U.S. Senate never took up that legislation.
Since there is a shortage of Catholic chaplains, some military bases hire priests under contract to provide religious services. Only those priests who had not renewed their contracts were denied the opportunity to continue with their priestly duties during the shutdown.
Since Protestants do not have chaplain shortages, they were not affected by the shutdown.
At the time of publication, Congress is working on an agreement that will end the government shutdown.