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U.S. Supreme Court petitioned to halt Navy’s discrimination against Chaplains

Navy Chaplain Protests Military Prayer Rights
Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

The Rutherford Institute, after a decade-long fight to achieve equality in the treatment of Navy Chaplains, on Wednesday have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to declare the U.S. Navy’s practice of discriminating against evangelical chaplains within its Chaplain corps as unconstitutional.

In statements sent to the media via email, the Rutherford Institute said it is coming to the defense of numerous current and former U.S. Navy chaplains who allege that the Navy has procedures allowing discrimination against evangelical chaplains concerning promotions and assignments.

The attorneys at the Rutherford Institute said that ample statistical evidence that Navy boards are biased against chaplains of certain “disfavored” denominations exists.

The Institute attorneys are asking that the U.S. Supreme Court rule that the Navy is in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee to equal protection of the law.

“The most fundamental guarantee of the First Amendment is that the government must remain neutral when it comes to religion. As a result, religious denomination must not be a factor in the allocation of government benefits. Unfortunately, it is clear that evangelical chaplains in the Navy tend to be discriminated against when it comes to promotions and job assignments,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of "A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State".

“It is our hope that the Navy will cease practices that clearly result in discrimination against evangelical chaplains who have answered the call to serve our country by ministering to the religious needs of servicemen and women.”

In 2001, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of 34 U.S. Navy chaplains who alleged that the Navy established and maintained an unconstitutional religious quota system and discriminated against evangelical chaplains concerning promotions, assignments and job retention.

In 2011, citing irreparable injuries to the chaplains’ First Amendment rights as a result of secret voting by the members of Navy chaplain promotion boards and the Navy’s Chief of Chaplains, or his deputy serving as president of such boards, an injunction was filed challenging the practices and asking that they be halted while the case was underway. Supporting the injunction request, Institute attorneys cited statistical studies showing that these practices resulted in discrimination against non-liturgical chaplains because the chaplains on the boards tended to favor candidates of their own denomination and disfavor candidates from other denominations.

“However, when presented with the evidence, the trial court declared that the statistical evidence did not demonstrate intentional discrimination by the Navy, and so refused the request for an injunction, a ruling that was subsequently affirmed by the court of appeals,” Whitehead said. “In our petition for writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Institute attorneys will argue that the rulings ignore clear precedent under the Establishment Clause holding that practices suggesting a denominational preference should be treated as presumptively unconstitutional.”

Affiliate attorney Arthur A. Schulcz, Sr., is assisting The Rutherford Institute in prosecuting the lawsuit on behalf of the chaplains.

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