Chaplains' suit against Navy proceeds full steam ahead, federal judge says
___By Ken Walker
___For Baptist Press
___WASHINGTON (BP)--A federal court judge has ruled that a 2-year-old class-action lawsuit alleging discrimination by the U.S. Navy against evangelical chaplains can proceed.
___The case includes five current or former Southern Baptist chaplains.
___In a lengthy ruling announced Jan. 10, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina said the plaintiffs in the class-action suit and a second filed by the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches, have raised valid constitutional issues.
___In a 62-page order, the judge denied the Navy's motion to dismiss the cases, saying the plaintiffs had successfully stated a claim that the military's policies violate the First Amendment.
___He also applied a "strict scrutiny" standard to the cases, which refers to a prior Supreme Court ruling that the government cannot favor one religion over another.
___"The court holds that the plaintiffs have stated a claim that the (Navy) defendants' policies and practices relating to the hiring and retention of its chaplains are not justified by a compelling government objective and are not narrowly tailored to accomplish that objective," Urbina wrote.
___In summarizing claims related to alleged First Amendment violations, the judge noted a string of allegations. Among them are:
___ Forcing non-liturgical churches to hold services off base in inadequate, substandard facilities while Catholics and liturgical Protestants enjoyed spacious facilities on post.
___ Senior Catholic and liturgical chaplains intentionally giving non-liturgical chaplains lower ratings solely because of their religious identification.
___ Using a two-tiered system of discipline, with liturgical chaplains receiving lighter punishment than non-liturgicals for similar offenses.
___ Requiring non-liturgical chaplains to officiate at liturgical Protestant services, but not requiring liturgicals to officiate at non-liturgical services.
___Southern Baptists among the 17 current plaintiffs include David Wilder, the only one still on active duty. Formerly based in Hubert, N.C., he went to Camp Lejune in Jacksonville, N.C., last July to run the chaplain training and operations program for the base chapel.
___Wilder claims he has twice been passed over for a commander's position in recent years because of discrimination. The lawsuit claims he has experienced blatant prejudice on numerous occasions, including a superior telling him to conduct a worship service foreign to his religious tradition.
___The other Southern Baptists in the class action are:
___ Robert Adair of Columbia, Tenn., who alleged he was forced to retire against his will after 17 years in the Navy. He is pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church in Columbia.
___ Thomas Rush of Clovis, N.M., a former line officer who later re-enlisted in the Navy as a reserve chaplain in 1986 and went on active duty in 1990. He claims the Navy disregarded previous duty reports to deny him a promotion, and he left in 1994. He is pastor of First Baptist Church of Clovis.
___ Gregory DeMarco, now associate pastor at London Bridge Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, Va., who also had previous Navy service before he became a chaplain. The lawsuit says he took early retirement to avoid humiliation and family disruption after a superior rated him in such a way that he wasn't competitive for a promotion.
___ James Weibling, now a doctoral student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, who served two tours of duty, first as a line officer and then as a chaplain. The lawsuit claims that during the latter, religious animosity against non-liturgical chaplains caused him to be passed over for promotion twice.
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