Press Releases

Navy Cancels Catholic Chaplains

September 9, 2020

News Release
For Immediate Release: 9.9.20
Contact: Lacey McNiel,
Direct: 972-941-4453 

Navy Cancels Catholic Chaplains
First Liberty Institute Sends Letter Urging Defense Secretary to Defend Religious Liberty Rights of All Military Service Members

Washington, DC–First Liberty Institute sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to express concern over a series of recent incidents in the U.S. military that have resulted in unlawful religious discrimination against service members, and to urge the Secretary to protect religious freedom within the military.  Most recently, the U.S. Navy this week announced that it would no longer provide Catholic priests to cover the shortage of Catholic military chaplains, while Protestant and other services continue.

Read the letter here.

“The Navy’s decision to deny service members access to Catholic priests is stunningly short-sighted,” said Mike Berry, First Liberty Institute General Counsel. “How can we expect America’s military to protect us when the Pentagon is not giving them the full support they need?  If we would not send our troops into battle without the physical tools to accomplish the mission, we cannot send them into battle without the same spiritual tools.”

This week it was reported that the U.S. Navy canceled contracts with Catholic priests that helped cover a shortage of military chaplains on Navy bases.  A Navy spokesperson claimed the decision was made so that it could better serve “our largest demographic—active duty Sailors and Marines in the 18-25-year-old range.”  According to the Department of Defense’s Religious Identification and Practices Survey, however, Catholics are the single largest religious demographic, comprising more than 1 in 5 service members.  The courts have also concluded that the Department of Defense has a constitutional mandate to ensure that every service member has access to chaplains of their own denomination.

Today’s letter to Secretary Esper concludes, “Mr. Secretary, our military faces many challenges on many fronts.  As Americans, we are obligated to ensure that our service members are equipped to perform their noble mission.  We urge you to take immediate and affirmative steps to remedy this situation.  Thank you for your attention to this matter, and for valuing the principles of religious freedom upon which our nation was founded, and which our service members defend.”

In May of this year, First Liberty wrote a letter to Secretary Esper regarding the censorship of military chaplains by the U.S. Army in the midst of the COVID-19. In July, First Liberty again reached out to Secretary Esper on behalf of service members who were prohibited from attending in-person religious services off base by the U.S. Navy.  The Navy quickly clarified that policy, allowing personnel to attend in-person services.

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About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at or by calling 972-941-4453.

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