A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled Monday that plaintiffs in two lawsuits accusing the Navy of discriminating against evangelical chaplains represent as many as 1,000 current or former chaplains.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina approved the actions to be certified as a class action lawsuit based on the plantiffs' demonstration that they could represent evangelical Naval chaplains on duty between 1988 and 2002. The decision has no bearing on case merit.

The suits, filed by Baptist, Evangelical, and Pentecostal chaplains, claim that non-liturgical chaplains were passed up for promotions, forced to retire early, or treated unfairly.

The class-action boost comes after a federal judge in June dismissed a Navy chaplain's claim that Naval superiors discriminate against non-liturgical clergy in promotion and hiring. Calling the ruling a "temporary speed bump on the road to justice," Dean Broyles, the San Diego lawyer for the plaintiff, quickly filed an appeal of the ruling.

Thomas Whelan, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of California, granted a Justice Department motion to dismiss a suit brought by Pentecostal chaplain Patrick Sturm. Lt. Cmdr. Sturm says Protestant clergy from non-liturgical churches—such as Baptists and Pentecostals—face discrimination in hiring and promotion in the Navy Chaplain Corps compared to clergy from liturgical churches, such as Episcopalians or Lutherans. Sturm's superiors promoted him after he filed suit.

The judge's ruling cited policy changes the Navy has made since Sturm filed the lawsuit. Whelan noted that seniority alone now determines candidates for promotion, a process that cannot exclude a particular faith group. The judge noted that from 1990 to 2001, more ...

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