Updated at 12:43 p.m.
A Catholic priest claiming he was barred from ministering at a U.S. Navy base because of the government shutdown is suing the U.S. Department of Defense, claiming violations of his First Amendment rights.
In a lawsuit filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Father Ray Leonard said he was told to stop providing Catholic religious services at the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Kings Bay, Georgia, even on a volunteer basis, or else face arrest. Leonard, who serves as a chaplain under a contract with the Defense Department, was one of hundreds of thousands told to stop working during the shutdown.
According to the complaint, the Defense Department put a sign outside the base chapel saying Catholic services would no longer take place during the shutdown. The chapel has remained opened for services by other religious denominations, Leonard said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called a large number of furloughed employees back to work several days after the shutdown started on October 1, but Leonard said military chaplains were not included. Leonard said the department violated his right to engage in religious expression under the First Amendment and other federal law.
Leonard's co-plaintiff is Fred Naylor, a veteran who attends Catholic religious services on the Kings Bay naval base.
The plaintiffs are being represented by the Thomas More Law Center. Attorney Erin Elizabeth Mersino could not immediately be reached for comment.
A spokesman for the Defense Department declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.