To ostensibly combat the spread of the coronavirus, the United States Navy has banned and allegedly threatened to court-martial troops who attend indoor religious services. The order, however, allows troops to use mass transit, post offices, laundromats, retail outlets, and permits in-residence social gatherings of any size, including house parties and protests.
Major Daniel Schultz is a devout Christian who wants to participate in religious church services in person. Major Schultz is also part of his church’s worship team, which requires him to physically attend church. However, the new order prohibits him from doing so.
The Navy issued the order on June 24: “Service members are prohibited from visiting patronizing, or engaging in . . . off-installation specific facilities, services or activities . . . to include indoor religious services.”
In response, First Liberty Institute sent a letter to Lieutenant Colonel, Matthew Garvin, to request that the Navy either rescind the order entirely or grant Major Schultz a religious accommodation if the Navy truly believes it has a compelling interest in banning church attendance.
“The Navy’s order is absurd and outrageous,” said Mike Berry, General Counsel for First Liberty, in a statement to The Daily Citizen. “None other than our Commander in Chief has declared churches to be essential in America, yet the Navy is lost at sea. Our service members continue to make sacrifices to keep us free. Banning them from attending religious services just before we celebrate our nation’s Independence Day only adds insult to injury.”
“Major Schultz cannot attend religious services at his church, but he can host a party at his house with the same number of people that attend his church,” Berry wrote in the letter to Lieutenant Colonel Garvin. “Ensuring service member health and welfare is certainly a noble and laudable goal. But it cannot come at the expense of the Constitution.”
Speaking to The Daily Citizen, the Navy disputed the contention from First Liberty that there has been a double standard for sailors of faith. “No one has said sailors can’t practice their faith,” a Navy official said. Rather, the Navy has discouraged any mass gatherings of more than 10 people.
Additionally, the Navy said that the order actually was not new, but had actually been on the books since March. Due to the Navy’s Zero Failure Mission, protecting force health remains a top priority.
“We are stunned that the Navy would issue this unlawful order,” Chaplain Col. Ron Crews, US Army Ret., executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, told Fox News. “Our chaplains have fought, bled, and even died for the right of every service member to enjoy religious freedom wherever they are, at home and abroad. For the Navy to strip away that freedom in this manner is unconscionable.”
This is not the first time we have seen governmental authorities crack down on religious services supposedly due to COVID-19 concerns while allowing or even supporting and joining in other mass gatherings such as protests.
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