The U.S. Navy is under fire from evangelicals within its chaplains corps, who claim in a recent lawsuit that they have been discriminated against in favor of liturgical chaplains such as Roman Catholics and Lutherans. Eleven "nonliturgical Christian" Navy chaplains filed the class-action suit on March 17. They allege a range of discrimination, including illegal religious quotas for promotions and career opportunities for chaplains and a "pervasive climate of bias, animosity, and deceit toward nonliturgical Christian Navy chaplains." The lawsuit is one of three filed since October 1999."The Navy has basically ignored the complaints and the concerns that have been raised by chaplains as to the perception of religious discrimination," says lawyer Art Schulcz.Schulcz represents chaplains in both the class-action suit and a previous suit filed in November 1999 by the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches, an agency that endorses charismatic chaplains."I can't speak to the specific lawsuit because I haven't seen it," says Frank Thorp, spokesman for the Navy's Personnel Command. "But I can tell you that the Navy has chaplains from more than 110 different faith groups whose responsibility is to provide spiritual leadership to sailors around the world in fair fashion."The March suit estimates the class involved in the suit could represent as many as 600 current and former chaplains, some of whom were passed over for promotions or forced to retire. Among those bringing the most recent suit are chaplains endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention, the Church of the Nazarene, the Church of Christ, and the National Association of Evangelicals.The suit cites specific instances in which nonliturgical chaplains believe they were harassed for their support of nontraditional worship. For example, it alleges that Lt. Michael Belt, a California–based plaintiff affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene, was told by a ranking liturgical chaplain that a reformatted Protestant worship service he and another nonliturgical chaplain oversaw was "hogwash." The suit says the service reverted to its traditional style.Two of the 11 plaintiffs filed under pseudonyms, fearing Navy retaliation. As an example of their claim of domination by high-church chaplains in the corps, the suing chaplains say three of the last four chiefs of chaplains have been Lutherans. But Thorp points out that the current Deputy Chief of Chaplains is a nonliturgical Protestant. The plaintiffs argue that the Navy maintains an "irrational and arbitrary Thirds Policy," reserving one-third of chaplain positions for Catholics, one-third for liturgical Protestants, and one-third for nonliturgical Christians and non-Christians. Under such a policy, the suit says, liturgical Protestant chaplains may fill one-third of the positions, although they represent only 9 percent of the military service. Citing an Armed Forces Religious Preference Report from 1998, the suit contends that 24 percent of sailors and Marines are Catholic and more than 50 percent of the Navy's religious population affiliates with nonliturgical faith groups. The Navy provides chaplains for both the Navy and Marine Corps.
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