The First Amendment is very clear. Its first words state that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Obama administration, however, seems to need a refresher course on this core freedom. It has announced that, during the shutdown, contract military chaplains are prohibited from exercising their faith by performing the mass or otherwise ministering to their military flock. This is a big deal because the military does not have enough chaplains to serve the troops’ needs, so they have to reach out to the civilian sector to hire chaplains.
John Schlageter, general counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services USA, an organization that supports Catholic chaplains in the military, wrote an op-ed explaining what’s happening:
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With the government shutdown, many [government service] and contract priests who minister to Catholics on military bases worldwide are not permitted to work – not even to volunteer. During the shutdown, it is illegal for them to minister on base and they risk being arrested if they attempt to do so.
As an example, if a Catholic family has a Baptism scheduled this weekend at an Air Force with no active duty chaplain and that base is staffed by a GS or contract priest who is furloughed, unless they can locate a priest who is not a GS or contract priest, the Baptism is most likely cancelled. If you are a Catholic stationed in Japan or Korea and are served by a Contract or GS priest who is furloughed, unless you speak Korean or Japanese and can find a church nearby, then you have no choice but to go without Mass this weekend. Until the Federal Government resumes normal operations, or an exemption is granted to contract and GS priests, Catholic services are indefinitely suspended at many of those worldwide installations served by contract and GS priests.
Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo, a West Point graduate and Army veteran, spoke with The Daily Caller, saying that the administration’s attack on the faithful in the military “crosses a constitutional line.” As far as Pompeo is concerned, “The constitutional rights of those who put their lives on the line for this nation do not end with a government slowdown. It is completely irresponsible for the president to turn his back on every American’s First Amendment rights by furloughing military contract clergy.” He added that “This action crosses a constitutional line of obstructing every U.S. service member’s ability to practice his or her religion.”
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House members are promising to do what they can to reaffirm the troops’ right to practice their faith, but there is no word yet as to whether they’ve been successful in doing so.