Eagle Forum Legislative Alerts

Monday, December 23, 2013

Even the Military Makes Religion Mistakes

When many government offices were closed during the shutdown caused by the budget impasse in Congress earlier this year, Americans were shocked by this headline: “Priests Face Arrest for Saying Mass During Shutdown.” News accounts reported that Catholic priests were warned by the U.S. Army that they were not permitted to minister to Catholics on the military base during the shutdown, and that they risked being arrested if they attempted to do so. Since they are unpaid volunteers, this was not caused by any stoppage of government funds.

The nearest Catholic Church to this Army base is 16 miles away, and most families on the base do not own a car, so Catholics were effectively prevented from going to church on Sunday. Priests were not only told they would not be allowed to say Mass, but other religious duties were also suspended. Confession, marriage preparation classes, and baptisms were canceled, and the priests were told they could not provide any spiritual guidance to their parishioners.

There are not enough Catholic priests who are regular Army chaplains to minister to all the Catholics on the base. Father Ray Leonard is one of many priests who serve on a volunteer basis. Father Leonard had ministered in Communist China for years, where the Chinese government had prevented him from performing public religious services. He said he never thought the same thing could happen to him in his own country.

Congress quickly responded with a resolution to reinstate volunteer chaplains and allow them to carry out their religious duties. The House of Representatives voted 400 to 1 and the Senate passed a similar resolution.

The Thomas More Law Center sued on Father Leonard’s behalf, and the government quickly reopened the chapel and let the priest continue his duties. However, the Thomas More Law Center has not dropped its lawsuit, saying they want to make sure this never happens again.

Listen to the radio commentary here:

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