Catholic priest sues over access denial at military base because of shutdown
October 14th, 2013
02:19 PM ET
10 months ago

Catholic priest sues over access denial at military base because of shutdown

(CNN) – A Catholic priest has gone to court, saying the partial government shutdown is preventing him from providing religious services– even voluntarily– on a U.S. military base.

Father Ray Leonard filed a lawsuit Monday in federal district court in Washington, saying he "wishes to continue practicing his faith and ministering to his faith community free of charge... but has been told that he is subject to arrest if he does so."

Leonard is a newly hired civilian employee, scheduled to start work October 1 to provide Catholic religious services at the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia.

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.

Leonard and co-plaintiff Fred Naylor, a veteran who attends Catholic services, said their First Amendment right of religious expression and outreach was being violated.

The base is located in St. Marys near the South Georgia coast. Active duty chaplains are still being allowed to administer to the Catholic base community, according to Kings Bay officials.

The men are represented by the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, which calls the case an "astonishing attack on religious freedom by the federal government, and the latest affront toward the military since the beginning of the shutdown."

There was no reaction from base officials to the pending litigation.

The lawsuit says about 300 Catholic families in Leonard's faith community have been unable to attend Mass on base since the shutdown began. Leonard has been locked out of his office and denied access to articles of his faith, including the Holy Eucharist.

A sign on the door of the base chapel says "Catholic Mass will be suspended until further notice," and that "active duty chaplains will be continue to facilitate, provide, care and advise the Subase community."

Parishioners are advised to attend an off-base Catholic church about eight miles away.

In an affidavit, Leonard said he had previously served the Tibetan community in China for a decade. "In China, I was disallowed from performing public religious services due to the lack of religious freedom in China. I never imagined that when I returned home to the United States, that I would be forbidden from practicing my religious beliefs as I am called to do, and would be forbidden from helping and serving my faith community."

There are about 10,000 people who live, work, and use the navy base.

Leonard also claims "members of religions, other than the Roman Catholic religion, have been afforded access to the chapel to engage in religious exercise in conformity with their respective faiths."

The notice from chapel staff says, "Protestant services will continue to be held in the Subase chapel Sundays @ 1030. We apologize for the inconvenience."

The government will be given a chance to respond to the lawsuit in coming weeks. It was unclear whether any end to the shutdown and resumption of the Catholic services would stop the lawsuit from proceeding.

The case is Leonard v. U.S. Department of Defense (1:13-cv-1571).

soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    If the good Father can't preach on base, why should the Congress be allowed to have their chaplain?

    October 14, 2013 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  2. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    I hope he named Ted Cruz and John Boehner specifically in the suit!

    October 14, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  3. Data Driven

    Is he suing under FTCA? If not, this will go nowhere.

    October 14, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  4. Kinard

    Looks like some in organized religion don't completely agree with the right wing, that believes it has access to Gods ear.

    October 14, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  5. The Real Tom Paine

    Since he is not a military chaplain, is it possible that his clearance, like that of many civilian workers, is not valid during gthe shutdown? Its seems pretty interesting that he was able to get a case filed in federal court in a little over 2 weeks: sounds like someone egged him on.

    October 14, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  6. Hfxwst

    If the Catholic Church wishes to sue the USA and have access to constitutional rights,then they can start paying taxes.

    October 14, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  7. freedom

    This is an infringement on religious freedom – which is a violation of our Constitution. No president in history has allowed this to happen during a government shutdown.

    October 14, 2013 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  8. @the above comment

    if it was the republicans/mitt romney's fault, why is it called Obamacare and not Romneycare?

    October 14, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    "No president in history" has been met with such hate, demeaning comments, obstruction, pettiness, vile rhetoric,
    and a willingness to destroy America. This is done with such glee and without compassion for those who are
    suffering by a group of so-called "patriots", who are so power hungry and so anxious to turn America into a Nation of
    gun-totin', rabble rousin', wild west actin' rebels. They have no sense of how to run a government, in fact, they
    have no sense at all.
    If the "moderate" Republicans can't stop them, how does anyone expect the President or any other Democrat to
    "negotiate" with whiners and hard headed maniacs.

    October 14, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  10. S. B. Stein

    If there is that problem with this one member from one religion being blocked while others are afforded access, then there is a problem. If there is an issue because this was a new employee, that might be the problem.

    October 14, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  11. Larry in Houston

    """The lawsuit says about 300 Catholic families in Leonard's faith community have been unable to attend Mass on base since the shutdown began"""

    You mean to tell me that there's no other catholic church in the area that is close ? or how about driving an extra mile or 2 ? LOL – This is just one of the reasons why I'm embarrassed to be a catholic... no wonder I only go at Easter & X-mas. I mean, Just think about it, you never know when you are listening to a pedophile that is up there in front of the podium, saying his sermon....pitiful I tell ya, Just pitiful....

    October 14, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  12. TEA PARTY IS FOR MURKA!!!!

    -@the above comment

    if it was the republicans/mitt romney's fault, why is it called Obamacare and not Romneycare?
    *************
    Possibly because the GOP plan was implemented by a Demcratic president, hence the implied insult. The GOP lacked the spine and the focus to put their own plan into action on a national scale, despite ample time to do so.

    October 14, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  13. Doyle Wiley, MI

    This is not a violation of religious freedom. The priest is an employee of the government. It is against the law for furloughed employees to work at their federal job location, with or without pay. Comparing this situation to China is ridiculous. The priest can practice has faith outside the naval base.

    October 14, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  14. bcrunner

    This is a bunch of hogwash!! My church is more than 8 miles away... He can go and attend/perform Mass at that church. Talk about whining!!

    October 14, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  15. CB FL

    I would like to know who put up the money. Going to federal court is not cheap.

    October 14, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |