The ruling, issued June 20, is the latest development in a string of suits by evangelical chaplains who claim they have been discriminated against by naval chaplaincy officials. Nonliturgical chaplains say that Catholic and liturgical Protestants are more likely to be promoted.
In this case, Lt. Cmdr. Patrick M. Sturm, a Navy chaplain based in San Diego, filed suit after being denied promotion three years in a row. After seeking reconsideration by a naval board and filing his suit in federal district court, Sturm was promoted retroactively. The Navy then sought to have the case dismissed.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas J. Whelan dismissed the part of the suit relating to Sturm's promotions, but decided to consider his claims of stacked selection boards within the Navy.
"The pleadings contain specific and detailed factual allegations which suggest the Navy may be favoring certain religious groups over others," Whelan wrote, "causing an unconstitutional religious preference or an infringement upon plaintiff's rights to religious freedom."
The Navy declined to respond to Whelan's ruling.
Earlier Christianity Today coverage of the naval bias suits includes:
More Navy Chaplains Allege Discrimination | "We're not on the same ground as the high church group or the Catholics," say evangelicals. (April 18, 2001)
Evangelicals File Bias Suit Against Navy | Claims made that complaints of religious discrimination have been ignored. (May 22, 2000)
The Washington Post covered the first of the suits when originally filed in April 2000.