There are many stories that have come out of the government shutdown. From the World II veterans being barred from their own memorial to the closing of the Library of Congress and National Archives the shutdown has been a lesson in what customer service the government provides.
The story of a priest in Georgia who was barred from holding religious services was one of the most shocking to Americans who believe that freedom of religion is one of the most precious rights. The priest in the story is Father Ray Leonard, not to be confused with the boxer. The priest, who serves the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia, was prohibited from even volunteering to celebrate Holy Mass without pay, and was told that if he violated that order, he could be subject to arrest. Protestant services continue to take place.
Father Leonard served Tibetan populations in China for 10 years, informed the court in an affidavit; "In China, I was disallowed from performing public religious services due to the lack of religious freedom in China. 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,” Leonard said.
The submarine base is remotely located. It consists of roughly 16,000 acres, with 4,000 acres comprised of protected wetlands. There are approximately 10,000 total people on the base. A Catholic Church is located off base in the town of St. Mary's. However, many of the parishioners both live and work on base and do not own a car and cannot otherwise access transportation. Therefore a sixteen (16) mile journey to and from the off-base church is simply not possible. Moreover, many of the sailors have an extremely limited amount of time off. With their time highly regimented, they are not given a long enough break time for this exceptionally long walk and the Mass service.
On October 4, 2013, Father Leonard was ordered to stop performing all of his duties as the base's Catholic Chaplain, even on a voluntary basis. He was also told that he could be arrested if he violated that order. The approximately 300 Catholic families, including Fred Naylor's, served by Father Leonard at Kings Bay have been unable to attend Mass on base since the beginning of the shutdown.
The Pay Our Military Act, which was enacted before the beginning of the government shutdown, provides provisions for the funding of employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale and well-being of the military. The government has previously been criticized for interpreting the Act to not include military death benefits. Now, in yet another bizarre interpretation of the Act, some chaplains are not considered covered by these provisions, leaving Catholic members of some military facilities without spiritual guidance.
The Department of Defense must follow federal law. As the government shutdown was ordered by the federal government the closure of the Library of Congress, National Archives, World War II Memorial, and other federal facilities was part of the lapse in funding. All federal facilities will open as the federal government reopens.