Thursday, March 17, 2016

Many Claims of Non-Liturgical Navy Chaplains Are Dismissed; Several Claims Survive

In In re Navy Chaplaincy, (D DC, March 16, 2016), a challenge to Navy procedures for selection and promotion of chaplains that has wound its way through the courts for over 16 years, the D.C. federal district court dismissed a substantial number of plaintiffs' claims.  The case has already generated over 20 decisions in the courts.  In the case (actually 3 consolidated cases), plaintiffs (Non-Liturgical Protestants) challenged both Navy policies and the practices of chaplain selection boards.  As explained by the court in its 59-page opinion:
[T]hey contend that the faith group categories recognized by the Navy are discriminatory and arbitrary..... In particular, they claim that the categories reflect neither religious demographics nor legitimate similarities or differences among the worship traditions represented.  Second, they allege that in the past ... the [Chaplain Corps] used religious quotas to apportion chaplain opportunities among various faith groups..... Third, Plaintiffs challenge a number of facially neutral personnel practices - both current and historical - that they believe have allowed religious bias to infect selection board outcomes.
The court dismissed most of plaintiffs' claims for lack of standing or on mootness or statute of limitations grounds. However the court allowed two former chaplains to proceed with their complaint that the Navy violated their free speech rights by interfering with their form of prayer. More specifically they allege that they were reprimanded for ending their prayer "in Jesus name." The court also allowed plaintiffs to move ahead with their non-selection for promotion claims.  In addition, the Navy did not seek dismissal of challenges to policies on the promotion and early retirement selection board process.