WASHINGTON (BP)–Four evangelicals, including a Southern Baptist from California, have sued the United States Navy for alleged discrimination that they say kept them out of the Chaplain Corps.
Filed Oct. 11 in U.S. District Court, the sixth lawsuit against the Navy in recent years represents a new set of claims.
In five previous suits, evangelicals charged that discrimination caused them to be passed over for promotions, often forcing them into early retirement. But the four new plaintiffs believe bias against non-liturgicals prevented them from even pursuing careers as Naval chaplains.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if others come out of the woodwork,” said Art Schulcz, of Vienna, Va., the attorney who represents all but one of 57 plaintiffs in the suits. “Once the word gets out, people call me.”
Neither the U.S. Justice Department, which represents the Navy, or its public affairs office will comment on pending litigation.
The latest lawsuit credits earlier press reports about the series of discrimination claims with awakening the plaintiffs to see circumstances that allegedly stopped them from entering the Chaplain Corps.
Two were Naval enlistees prior to applying for the chaplaincy; the third was with the Air Force and Air National Guard for six years; and the other is an Army chaplain.
The Southern Baptist is David Myers of Santee, Calif., admissions director and director of the chaplaincy program at Southern California Bible College & Seminary (SCBCS) in El Cajon, Calif.
A veteran with 21 years experience, he states in the lawsuit that the Navy denied him an age waiver despite routinely granting them to liturgical clergy with no prior Naval experience.
“The Navy’s denial of Rev. Myers’ application despite his excellent prior service and unquestioned qualifications is evidence of the Chaplain Corps’ bias against non-liturgical clergy, especially those with prior military service such as himself,” the suit states.
In addition to his military service, the suit describes his qualifications as including master’s degrees in religious studies, college teaching experience and the Southern Baptist Convention’s endorsement.
According to the lawsuit, Myers enlisted as a sailor in January 1980 and rose to the rank of chief petty officer before retiring in May of last year.
During his career, he graduated from college and earned two master’s degrees, in religious studies and biblical studies. After active duty, to better prepare for Naval ministry, he enrolled in a master of divinity program, the suit recounts.
In addition, Myers was a full professor at SCBCS and taught a humanities course at an extension campus of an Indiana college.
After applying for the Chaplain Corps in the summer of 2001, the lawsuit states that recruiter Gary Carr told Myers he had one of the strongest records of those under consideration. It adds that Carr asked Myers if he would consider accompanying Carr to Japan after a reassignment and the candidate’s expected commissioning as a chaplain.
Despite his prior service and record, the Navy rejected him. The decision caused him financial difficulties, since — based on the recruiter’s representation — he had resigned from SCBCS and taken steps to prepare for active duty, the suit states.
“When he queried the Navy as to why he was turned down, he was told the Navy had filled its quota for age waivers,” the suit states. “The … reported reason makes no sense in light of the Navy’s own recruiting advertisements and its policy of giving credit for prior service.”
The other Baptist in the newest lawsuit is endorsed by the World Baptist Fellowship of Arlington, Texas, a missions organization composed of independent churches.
Gregory McNear, who previously served in the Air Force, enrolled in a graduate seminary program in 1993 after learning he needed 24 post-graduate semester hours to meet the Chaplain Corps’ academic criteria.
While in graduate school, recruiters assured the Fort Worth, Texas, resident he would be accepted, the lawsuit states. It adds that the promise led him to curtail civilian ministry opportunities to meet expected reporting requirements for Chaplain School.
However, the Navy denied his application, listing his age as the reason, the suit states. As in Myers’ case, McNear alleged that at the same time candidates from liturgical backgrounds were given age waivers.
In the context of other documents uncovered in related litigation, the lawsuit contends that “the needs of the Navy” cited in McNear’s case “was a code phrase for the Navy Chaplain Corps’ quota system that preferred liturgical clergy over non-liturgical clergy.”
The other two plaintiffs are:
— Charles Larsen of Blair, Neb., who pastors Country Bible Church, a congregation that has grown from 100 to 700 during his 11-year tenure.
A Navy veteran, his marriage was on the verge of collapse when he and his wife were born again. Larsen felt called by God to become a minister and help other Navy couples with troubled marriages, the lawsuit states.
However, after enrolling in Dallas Theological Seminary, his application for the Navy’s Student Seminary program was denied.
Larsen remained in the Naval Reserves and later applied to the Chaplain Corps after earning his degree and the endorsement of the Plymouth Brethren denomination, the lawsuit recounts. But that application also was denied.
— James Linzey of South Lake, Texas, who is endorsed by the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches. He is currently a major in the Army National Guard and has been reassigned to a unit scheduled for active duty this fall, according to the lawsuit.
Linzey had applied to become a Navy chaplain before his initial, three-year active duty tour in the Army concluded. Although the Navy had a shortage of chaplains then, his request was denied, the suit states.
“His Navy recruiter … told Chaplain Linzey that if he were a ‘baby baptizer,’ i.e., a Protestant liturgical, he would not have a problem becoming a Navy chaplain since he would be ‘more qualified,'” the suit states.
“The Navy’s refusal to consider Rev. Linzey’s application, in the face of a shortage of chaplains, was based on [its] illegal preference for liturgical faith group clergy and bias against non-liturgical faith groups.”
The lawsuit contends that such prejudice denied all four plaintiffs a fair opportunity to be considered for a commission in the Chaplain Corps and violated their First and Fifth Amendment rights.