Last October, the Thomas More Law Center filed a federal lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in reaction to what they called “an astonishing attack on the religious freedom” of Catholics at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia who were denied access to religious services on the base and whose priest was locked out of his chapel.
Because of the priest shortage on military bases, contract priests are employed by the government to ensure that a priest is available when an active duty Catholic Chaplain is not present.
During the government shutdown – in keeping with the Regime’s efforts to make the shutdown as painful as possible for Americans, many GS and contract priests who minister to Catholics on military bases worldwide were banned from working – even volunteering - despite provisions in the Pay Our Military Act that for provided the funding of employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale and well-being of the military. Reportedly, Protestant services continue to take place and only Catholic services were shutdown.
Father Ray Leonard, the priest in question, was threatened with arrest if he performed any sacraments during the shutdown. Breitbart News reports that a day after the reverend filed his lawsuit against the Department of Defense, he received a letter from the DOJ reinstating his right to serve Mass, but one week after receiving the letter, he was informed that his DOD contract was no longer valid.
The DOJ offered him a new contract that contained more “onerous” language, stipulating that, in order for the priest to be paid, he agree not to receive payment for services he had already rendered. “No other military chaplain contracts were under review or subjected to the same scrutiny as Father Leonard’s,” according to his lawyer at the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC). Father Leonard had not received any remuneration for November and suffered financial hardship. It is unclear whether he will receive pay for December.
Leonard lives close to the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia, where he performs his duties as a priest. He is responsible for paying his own rent and his meals. Erin Mersino, counsel for Father Leonard, explained that “Father Leonard just returned to America after spending ten years ministering to impoverished Tibetans in China. Consequently, withholding Father Leonard’s earnings for approximately two months left Father Leonard himself in an impoverished condition. Yet, he continued to minister to his congregation by scraping up enough money for food and rent payments for housing near the Naval Base which he serves.”
Mersino says the TMLC has filed an amendment to the original law suit including adding the retaliation complaint. “The Petition Clause of the First Amendment protects individuals who challenge the unconstitutional actions of the government from retaliation. The Archdiocese for the Military Services confirmed that no other military chaplain contracts were under review or subjected to the same scrutiny as Father Leonard’s. Thus, due to the timing of the Navy’s actions and the information gleaned from the Archdiocese for the Military Services, all signs point to Father Leonard being singled out and subjected to unlawful retaliation for bringing the government’s practices to light.”
Father Leonard remarked that, “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.”
What a sad commentary of the state of religious freedom in America, today.