Daily Dispatches
Father Ray Leonard
Photo courtesy of Religion News Service
Father Ray Leonard

Navy chaplain claims government retaliation

Religious Liberty

A Catholic Navy contract chaplain who filed suit after being barred from celebrating Mass at a Georgia naval base during the recent government shutdown now claims to be the target of government retaliation and harassment.

An amended complaint to the original lawsuit filed on behalf of Father Ray Leonard by the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), discusses how the government told Leonard that his contract was no longer “valid” after he filed the lawsuit against the Department of Defense and the Navy. The Navy ask him to sign a new contract containing “five additional pages of far more onerous terms than his original contract,” the complaint said. Prior to the original lawsuit, the Navy had no complaints about the original contract. 

Because Leonard refused to sign the new contract, the Navy refused to pay him for the months of November and December. He continued to minister to his congregation at the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, managing to scrape together money for food and rent. The Navy eventually approved an invoice for payment at the end of December.

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Leonard recently returned to the United States after spending 10 years as a missionary in Tibet. “In China, I was disallowed from performing public religious services due to the lack of religious freedom in China,” he said in an affidavit. “I never imagined that when I returned home to the United States, that I would be forbidden from practicing my religious beliefs as I am called to do, and would be forbidden from helping and serving my faith community.”

According to a press release from TMLC, “On October 4, 2013, during the Government shutdown, Father Leonard was ordered to stop performing all of his duties as the Base’s Catholic Chaplain, even on a voluntary basis. He was also told that he could be arrested if he violated that order.”

Although the Navy’s order resulted in the cancellation of daily and weekend mass, confession, and other Roman Catholic spiritual activities, the services of other Christian denominations were allowed to continue throughout the shutdown. 

“All signs point to Father Leonard being singled out and subjected to unlawful retaliation for bringing the government’s practices to light,” TMLC attorney Erin Mersino, said in a press release.

Michael Cochrane
Michael Cochrane

Michael is a retired Defense Department engineer and former Army officer who is an adjunct professor of engineering management at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Michael on Twitter @MFCochrane.

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