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Rabbi’s affidavit filed to support evangelicals’ claims of Navy bias

WILMINGTON, Del. (BP)–An affidavit from a Jewish rabbi has been filed by legal counsel handling a lawsuit against the United States Navy for alleged discrimination against evangelicals.

Steven Leapman, who provided the sworn declaration, is associate rabbi and director of religious education at Congregation Beth Emeth, Wilmington, Del., and a veteran of seven years of military service before leaving the Navy last year.

Leapman’s statement was filed in connection with one of four lawsuits filed over the past 18 months. In his statement, the rabbi noted discriminatory views expressed by superiors of Greg DeMarco, a former Southern Baptist chaplain involved in one of the other suits.

The remarks were made during Leapman’s service in Naples, Italy, as a counselor for Jewish sailors, with officers reportedly expressing concern that DeMarco was pushing a strongly evangelical agenda.

The rabbi said the officers complained that the Southern Baptist chaplain was insensitive to those outside his faith perspective, including a Jewish woman who was upset by one of DeMarco’s sermons.

“I felt it unprofessional that I should be an ear for this,” Leapman said in his statement. “I had little interest that a Jewish person was upset by what a Protestant chaplain had to say about Jesus. Any Jewish person who attends Christian worship should expect to hear a powerful evangelical message.”

Likewise, when a soldier comes to a Jewish chapel, he or she can expect to hear things from a Jewish perspective, Leapman told Baptist Press.

The comments and his other observations in Naples led Leapman to believe the commanding chaplains were not interested in supporting evangelical ministries. Nor would they support persons with DeMarco’s views, the rabbi said.

While he doesn’t believe that the Southern Baptist chaplain tried to evangelize Jews in the Navy, he did preach evangelistic sermons — which Leapman said was well within his rights as a chaplain.

“While not intending to actively convert anybody, Greg felt that he had a right to preach as he saw fit,” Leapman noted in his statement. “This is the custom of naval ministry; as long as compulsory attendance is not required, one is free to leave or not attend military worship.”

While both DeMarco and another litigant, Philip Veitch, were outspoken about their beliefs, they also respected his, Leapman said.

Reflecting the views of Reform Judaism, Leapman supports such practices as same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to choose abortion. But he said the issues raised in lawsuits by 27 current or former chaplains go beyond theological and social views.

“Were things reversed, I hope I would be fighting as hard for my Catholic friends for freedom of religious expression,” Leapman said. “There was a lot of bigotry and prejudice coming against people who didn’t fall within certain parameters.”

Leapman’s affidavit was filed in connection with a lawsuit filed last December by former Navy chaplain Philip Veitch, a minister in the theologically conservative Reformed Episcopal Church, who claims harassment and anti-evangelical bias led to his forced resignation.

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  • Ken Walker