Father Ray Leonard spent a decade serving the Tibetan population in China where the regime of the People’s Republic of China didn’t tolerate religious freedom. Of that decade, Fr. Leonard observed:
In China, I was disallowed from performing public religious services due to the lack of religious freedom in China.
Now serving in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services, imagine Fr. Leonard’s surprise when, during the recent government shutdown, the Obama administration prohibited him and nearly 50 other Catholic priests from saying Mass and administering other sacraments at U.S. military facilities around the world. This prohibition was issued despite the fact that Congress had passed, and President Barack Obama signed, a law instructing the Department of Defense (DOD) to keep paying contract employees who were supporting the troops on the job.
The rationale for the DOD prohibition?
According to CNSNews.com, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel determined–after consulting with Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department–that civilian Catholic priests, working under contract as chaplains, did not, among other things, “contribute to the morale” and “well-being” of service personnel. In a memorandum dated October 5, Hagel wrote:
The Department of Defense consulted closely with the Department of Justice, which expressed its view that the law does not permit a blanket recall of all civilians. Under our current reading of the law, the standard of “support to members of the Armed Forces” requires a focus on those employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities, and readiness of covered military members during the lapse of appropriations.
The only civilian contractors who met this standard, Hagel stated, were those working in secular “Family Support Programs and Activities,” “Behavioral Health and Suicide Prevention Programs” and “Health Care Activities and Providers.”
Note how those categories could be construed to include abortionists, but not Catholic clergy.
After Hagel published his determination, DOD maintained that the Anti-Deficiency Act barred civilian priests from volunteering to administer the sacraments to Catholic military personnel at military facilities. Thus, in his role as the Catholic chaplain at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia, Fr. Leonard was barred from visiting the chapel or his office on the Naval Base beginning October 7, 2013.
I never imagined that when I returned home to the United States, that I would be forbidden from practicing my religious beliefs as I am called to do, and would be forbidden from helping and serving my faith community.
Fr. Leonard didn’t take Hagel’s prohibition sitting down and filed a lawsuit against the Department of Defense, the Defense Secretary, the Department of the Navy, and the Navy Secretary. Leonard’s suit alleges that the Obama administration is violating his and his congregation’s First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion, the freedom of speech, and the freedom of assembly.
With the government shutdown over, Fr. Leonard’s lawsuit is moot. But, the Obama administration’s secular, anti-freedom of religion ideology remains.
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