U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Sporkin of Washington, D.C., ruled April 7 that the military violated the First Amendment rights of chaplains by forbidding them to advocate a ban on partial-birth abortion.

Catholic priests, including lead plaintiff Vincent Rigdon, a chaplain at Andrews Air Force Base, urged parishioners to send postcards to congressional representatives last year imploring them to override President Clinton's veto of the bill (CT, Dec. 9, 1996, p. 74).

"What we have here is the government's attempt to override the Constitution and the laws of the land," Sporkin wrote in his 36-page opinion criticizing the Pentagon. "There is no need for heavy-handed censorship."

Kevin J. Hasson, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the chaplains' attorney, praised the ruling. "This was the first time in U.S. history that the government dared to try to censor chaplains' preaching," he said. "The court has made sure it will be the last."

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