- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2000

A group of Navy evangelical chaplains has filed a class-action suit in federal court, accusing the Navy of censorship and of systematically denying promotions in favor of mainline-religion officers.

Arthur Schulcz Sr., the attorney who brought the legal action on behalf of 11 retired and current chaplains, contends the Navy Chaplain Corps operates a "religious patronage system."

Mr. Schulcz's suit charges the corps stacks promotion boards with liturgical Christians who advance their denomination chaplains at a much higher rate than evangelicals. The suit recounts cases of purported censorship in violation of Navy regulations that guarantee religious freedom of expression.

Cmdr. Frank Thorpe, a Navy spokesman, said the service had not yet seen the suit.

He defended the chaplain corps, saying, "The Navy prides itself on our role of defending freedom of religion as well as practicing it. The Navy chaplains from more than 110 faith groups provide spiritual leadership to our sailors in a free and open fashion."

One liturgical superior in Okinawa, Japan, called a Church of the Nazarene colleague's sermon "hogwash" and ordered the chaplain, Lt. Michael Belt, to change it, according to the suit.

The case, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., follows Navy efforts last summer to court-martial an evangelical minister who contends his Catholic superior censored his sermons at a base in Naples.

Lt. Cmdr. Philip Veitch, a member of the Reformed Episcopalian Church, says he submitted a letter of resignation under threat of court-martial. The Navy inspector general is now investigating his complaint.

The class-action suit charges the Navy with "discriminatory treatment" and "religious animosity against non-liturgical Christians" in violation of the Constitution's First and Fifth amendment guarantees of free speech and equal treatment.

The suit accuses the Navy of a "long and continuing pattern of … a chaplain promotion system that uses promotion boards dominated by chaplains personally selected by the chief of chaplains to select other chaplains for promotion; the establishment of religious quotas for chaplain promotions; the establishment of a preferred religious tradition; [and] unconstitutional discrimination and hostility on religious grounds against non-liturgical chaplains, … "

The legal papers state that the Air Force and Army assemble chaplain-promotion boards to include officers from other specialties.

"You may find isolated cases of discrimination but it's not part of a pattern," said Mr. Schulcz, referring to those two services.

The suit states that in the late 1980s the Navy adopted "The Thirds" policy. It allocated all chaplain positions by thirds to Catholics, liturgical Protestants and non-liturgicals. The system is unfair, the suit says, because liturgical Protestants make up only one-ninth of Navy personnel, while evangelicals account for over 50 percent of the service's religious population.

The suit quotes a 1995 memo from an evangelical chaplain. It contends that only 14 non-liturgical Navy chaplains have filled 119 top positions the past 15 years. The suit also states that only one non-liturgical has held the position of chief of chaplains since 1917.

The suit also says that the Navy's own internal investigation documented the discrimination, but was ignored. It says a minority affairs officer submitted a report in 1997 to the chief of naval operations that stated "the board may have systematically applied a denominational quota system."There are 810 Navy chaplains representing 110 denominations for sailors of more than 200 different faiths.

The suits asks the court to order the Navy to reform the promotion process by eliminating quotas, assigning only one chaplain to the board and bringing chaplain denominations more in line with the Navy population.

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