WASHINGTON (BP) — The attorney for 65 chaplains — including 16 Southern Baptists — who claim the U.S. Navy discriminates against evangelicals believes a new statistical analysis buttresses their legal efforts, which have been in court for 12 years.
Virginia attorney Arthur Schulcz says the statistical analysis shows that past promotion boards awarded favorable treatment to members from the Naval chief of chaplains’ denomination, regardless of who holds the office.
His clients are objecting to the chief of chaplains or his deputy sitting as president of Chaplain Corps promotion boards, which select candidates for lieutenant commander, commander, captain and rear admiral.
“When you have 48 people who share the [chief’s] denomination and 40 get promoted … that’s evidence,” said Schulcz, who has filed a motion for a temporary injunction to halt the next promotion board hearings.
“This is the first time we are faced with the answer to the impact of the chief of chaplains [on promotions]. It is a serious and statistically significant difference in promotion rank for those denominations who had a chief and those who didn’t.”
Promotion boards don’t start meeting until next February. However, since preliminary procedures get underway with the new federal fiscal year Oct. 1, Schulcz hopes to halt their schedule in the near future.
Filed in U.S. District Court in late July, the motion asks that the court stop the Navy from:
— Allowing the chief or a deputy to preside over promotion boards.
— Using chaplains as promotion board members and helping decide who gets benefits until the court rules on a pending motion in the case or until the Navy provides procedural guarantees precluding denominational favoritism.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina has been hearing the cases. First filed on behalf of a single evangelical endorsing entity in 1999 and expanded by various lawsuits, they have since been consolidated into a single case.
A spokesman for the Navy declined to comment to Baptist Press about the injunction filing.
“This is a simple case about Navy denominational favoritism and prejudice in the award of government benefits,” the motion said.
“It is now in its twelfth year,” the motion said, “despite the simplicity of its major theme and question: does the [First Amendment’s] Establishment Clause forbid the Navy from preferring some denominations over others when awarding government benefits?”
Because of the allegation of denominational preference, Schulz said the court is likely to require that the Navy explain why its procedures don’t violate the Establishment Clause.
His motion said that statistical analysis shows that the Naval Chaplain Corps consistently demonstrates a preference for Catholics first and liturgical Protestants second.
Each group typically receives a third of promotions, with non-liturgicals and special faith groups receiving the remaining third, the motion said.
“Detailed analysis of the Chaplain Corps’ management shows the faith group clusters (FGC) system hides the Navy’s denominational preferences and prejudice,” the motion said. “Theologically more conservative denominations have been treated prejudicially when compared with those of more liberal beliefs within the FGCs.”
As an example, it cites Romans Catholics receiving promotions more than 93 percent of the time from 1985-2000.
Members of three other liturgical groups earned promotions 81 to 86 percent of the time from 1985-2000, much higher rates than Southern Baptists and other evangelicals.
The alleged bias involving the chief of chaplains covers a 20-year period from 1981 to 2001, when eight different persons served in the office.
Statistician Harald Leuba of Potomac, Md., who completed an updated analysis earlier this year, found that 40 of 48 candidates who came from the same denomination were selected for promotion to commander, or approximately 83 percent. When candidates did not match the denomination, only 210 of 287 were selected, a rate of 73 percent.
“The fact is this success rate … is statistically significantly higher [by two standard deviations using a simple binomial test] than the … success rate which was experienced by the candidates who differed from the chief of chaplains,” said Leuba, who has performed statistical analysis for a dozen businesses and agencies, including the Navy and the plaintiffs.
Leuba found a wider disparity for promotions to captain. Twenty-two of 28 candidates from the same denomination as the chief of chaplains were promoted, or nearly 79 percent. Only 224 of 444 candidates from outside the chief’s denomination made captain, or just over 50 percent.
“This rate is unexplainable except by the chief’s influence on selection, retention and promotion boards … because it is a characteristic of all chiefs, regardless of denomination,” the motion said.
Promotions are just one aspect of the career benefits some denominational representatives receive, the motion said. Among other benefits it cited are continuing on active duty after an initial tour, key assignments and higher pay rates.
“My clients are not against Catholics per se,” said Schulcz, of Vienna, Va. “We’re against favoritism which has no compelling purpose. The plaintiffs are in favor of free exercise [of religion] and want to see that met.”
While most of the plaintiffs have left the Navy, many are involved in ministry and could earn back pay and be reinstated if the lawsuit is successful, Schulcz said.
However, he said the plaintiffs’ leading goal is to reform the system, which he described as ripe for abuse because of secret votes and lack of accountability.
“The focus is changing the system,” Schulcz said. “It’s line officers who rate the chaplains and it’s line officers who ought to select them. We simply want a level playing field.”
Ken Walker is a freelance writer from Huntington, W.Va., who has written periodically about the evangelical chaplains’ lawsuits against the Navy since 2002.