A federal judge has dismissed a Navy chaplain's claim that Naval superiors discriminate against non-liturgical clergy in promotion and hiring (CT, May 21, 2001, p. 19). 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, made in June.
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 non-liturgical Protestant chaplains went on active duty than chaplains from any other group, including Roman Catholics and members of other religious groups, such as Islam. Non-liturgical clergy are the largest group within the chaplain corps.
Whelan ruled that the composition of the chaplain corps and the new changes in the selection process "conclusively demonstrate that any form of institutionalized discrimination is not only improbable, but for all practical purposes, impossible."
Nonetheless, before and after the June ruling, 25 current or former non-liturgical chaplains joined a class-action lawsuit against the Navy. Attorney Art Schulcz of Vienna, ...1