Last month's government shutdown continues to plague the military in ways both anticipated and unforeseen. Among the more surprising side effects: the suspension of church services.
Take the Naval Submarine Base in Kings Bay Base, Georgia, for example, where Mass services have been cancelled until further notice. Father Ray Leonard, a non-active-duty priest contracted by the Department of Defense to serve the military members at Kings Bay, could even face arrest if he engages in any ministerial activity on base during the shutdown – a policy set forth by from John Schlageter, General Counsel for Archdiocese for the U.S. Military. Correspondingly, Leonard's follow-up offer to hold Mass and hear confessions on a strictly voluntary basis was rejected.
The rationale behind the chaplain restrictions is founded on the principal that the chaplain's work is both "non-essential" and "non-authorized" so as to place chaplains on furlough while simultaneously banning them from on-base activity. According to Leonard, his on-base Catholics are "upset, angry and dismayed" by this realization, incredulous that the U.S. government could deny them access to Mass.
In light of such frustration, lawmakers have raised the issue with the Department of Defense in attempt to lift the chaplain ban. Last weekend, Congressman Doug Collins (R-GA) introduced a resolution urging the Secretary of Defense to allow military chaplains to "perform religions services and ministry" amidst the shutdown. In a nearly unanimous decision, the House of Representatives passed the resolution, while the Senate has yet to take it up. Congressman Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) rebuked the Democrat-heavy Senate, arguing, "Time and time again this Administration demonstrates it is waging a war against the very religious freedoms upon which America was founded."
Statistically, contract chaplains serve American troops at over 220 U.S military installations in 29 countries and 153 VA Medical Centers throughout the U.S. The chaplain ban is particular hard-hitting among the Roman Catholic faith, however, as Catholic service members comprise over one fourth of the military.