Civilian Priests Ministering to Dying Serviceman Faced Possible Arrest


hagel is a joker

Secretary of Defense Hagel dressed as a joker

The government shutdown is over but not the case of Father Ray Leonard, the civilian Catholic chaplain at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia, who is suing Chuck Hagel, the Secretary of Defense, and the DOD for violating his and his congregation’s First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion.

Fr. Leonard was barred from entering his chapel and office and from performing any religious functions during the shutdown.

In a recent article we posted, ‘Catholic Priest Threatened with Arrest If He Performs Religious Services,’ we noted that only Catholic civilian ministers were banned from even volunteering to minister to their flock.

Fr. Leonard and a parishioner are suing with the help of The Thomas More Law Center.

There are two very serious infringements on liberty in this case.

One is preventing him from voluntarily exercising his First Amendment rights and those of his flock on the base.

The second is equally egregious – he was singled out because he is a Catholic priest. In a memorandum on Oct. 5, Secretary Hagel, stated that  contractors (Fr. Leonard is a civilian under contract) who were qualified to return to work during the shutdown under the Pay Our Military Act were those ‘who provide support and whose responsibilities contribute to the morale’ and ‘well-being’ of service members. Hagel determined  that “family support” and “behavioral health” contractors did meet the standard, but civilian Catholic priests serving as chaplains did not.

Protestant services were permitted:


Sign on chapel door stating Mass will not be held but Protestant services will continue, presumably because the Protestant ministers were active duty chaplains, but that is not clear.

The House and Senate passed a resolution after Oct. 5 that gave the following advice to Hagel:

“…the provision and availability of religious services and clergy is important to the morale and well-being of many members of the Armed Forces and their families; and hopes the Secretary of Defense is able to determine that contractor clergy provide necessary support to military personnel, and would therefore be covered under the appropriations made available under the Pay Our Military Act.”

Hagel chose to ignore the advice.

When asked by CNS News if the priest would have been arrested for administering last rights to a dying serviceman. The spokesman for Hagel, Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, said that  he ‘felt no compulsion to answer outlandish, hypothetical questions’ and he would not address matters under ‘ active litigation.’

The answer under our First Amendment is clearly, of course, that the priest would not have been arrested under those circumstances. It is absolutely a First Amendment right for the priest and the dying serviceman. That is not up for discussion under our Constitution. The fact that Hagel and his mouthpiece thinks it is should alarm anyone who cares about their First Amendment rights.

This is a case that must be litigated and it’s outrageous that it has to be litigated. If all Americans don’t find this concerning then we have gone a lot further down the rabbit hole than I ever dreamed.



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