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Chaplains charge Navy in violation of Constitution

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (BP)–During an August 2 litigation legal brief, Art Schulcz, lead attorney in the class-action lawsuit filed against the U.S. Navy, claimed that the Navy is in violation of First Amendment rights by discriminating against non-liturgical chaplains because of their beliefs and practices.

Schulcz, a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the U.S. Army, represents former and current Navy Chaplains who charge the Navy with denying promotions to evangelical chaplains and forcing early discharges while restricting their free exercise needs.

“This case is not about compensation,” said Schulcz. “It is about reform.”

The 28 plaintiffs in this case claim the current Navy Chaplain Corps structure violates the First Amendment by establishing a preferred liturgical protestant worship format while suppressing and punishing non-liturgicals.

“The Navy Chaplain Corps is corrupt,” said Schulcz. “It needs to be reformed.”

“Our objective is to restore the honor of those who have served before us and the [Chaplain] Corps is not honorable,” said Schulcz. “It shows no respect to the First Amendment, for the religious beliefs of those it is suppose to serve.”

According to the allegations, the current structure of the Chaplain Corps does not properly allocate chaplains based on the religious demographics of the Navy.

Under the “thirds” policy, the Navy generally grants one-third of its chaplaincy positions to Catholics, one-third for Liturgical Protestant and one-third for other background faith groups.

Schulcz said this quota system often precludes qualified non-liturgical evangelical chaplains from securing promotions and it hinders proper chaplaincy allocations based on the religious demographics of Navy personnel.

Referencing an October 1999 briefing on Religious Affiliations in the Department of Navy, Schulcz pointed out that there were two and a half times as many non-liturgicals enlisted in the Navy as liturgical, yet they are not proportionately represented on the board.

Schulcz also commented on how the key position controlled by senior liturgicals stop non-liturgicals from promoting in rank while forcing evangelical chaplains to reformat their services to fit a more liturgical style.

Lieutenant Commander David Wilder, a litigant in this case and the only active duty chaplain, said he was removed as pastor of his successful evangelical church after refusing to reformat his services to fit the wishes of a liturgical senior chaplain.

“I was given a sheet of paper that told me how to run my service,” said Wilder. “I was removed as pastor after I refused to change the evangelical format of my service.”

Wilder does not expect to move up rank despite an outstanding record.

“Promotions are not based on military merit, but religious favoritism,” said Schulcz during the briefing.

“These are promotions that look at something other than records,” he explained. “It is a standard-less concept.”

Lieutenant Commander Gary Stewart, co-plaintiff in this case, said he has been a viable candidate for promotion for the past two years and has been denied each year without explanation from his senior chaplains.

During Stewarts’ 14-year ministry as a Navy chaplain, he has developed a suicide prevention program and video, co-authored a marriage book, directed marriage enrichment retreats and guided a congregation to grow from 75 members to over 200 in an eight month span.

“In chapel, all I wanted to do was preach the word,” said Stewart. “I did not want to talk about denomination, I wanted talk about Christ and His word.”

“I am doing something I didn’t want to do before by being involved in this lawsuit,” said Stewart. “Yet they [senior liturgicals] put you in a position where they won’t listen to you because you are an evangelical. They won’t put you in position of responsibility and senior ranks to effect the evangelical community at large.”

Stewart said this litigation seeks to restore to the Chaplain Corp a constitutional respect for the rights of those evangelicals who join the military to worship according to the dictates of their faith.

“We consider it a great privilege and responsibility to share the tremendous and eternal merits of Christ’s work on the cross with all who desire to hear it,” said Stewart in the litigation benediction.

Stewart said he would continue to struggle for the sake of the Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen to whom he has been ordained and endorsed to serve.

“…A calling and endorsement that requires us to first serve the spiritual needs of our constituents without apology and certainly without compromise and then to protect the constitutional rights of others to express their faiths without prejudice against them,” he said.

Officially, the Navy will not comment on the case.

The lawsuit is currently being reviewed by a judge to rule on the Navy’s motion to dismiss the charges.

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  • Kelly Davis