Tuesday, August 05, 2008

D.C. Circuit Holds Navy Chaplains Lack Standing In Establishment Clause Case

In In re Navy Chaplaincy, (DC Cir., Aug. 1, 2008), the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, dismissed on standing grounds an Establishment Clause challenge by a group of non-liturgical Protestant Navy chaplains to the operation of the Navy's retirement system. Plaintiffs claimed that the system operated to favor Catholic chaplains. Plaintiffs, however, did not allege that they suffered any discrimination, but rather that other chaplains did. They claimed taxpayer standing, and standing as persons who have been subjected to the Navy’s "message" of religious preference. The majority said:
Plaintiffs' argument would extend the religious display and prayer cases in a significant and unprecedented manner and eviscerate well-settled standing limitations. Under plaintiffs’ theory, every government action that allegedly violates the Establishment Clause could be re-characterized as a governmental message promoting religion. And therefore everyone who becomes aware of the "message" would have standing to sue.
Judge Rogers dissented, arguing that plaintiffs' membership in the Chaplains Corps gives them sufficient particularized injury to meet the Article III standing requirements. (See prior related posting.)