Court denies small business preliminary injunction to non-liturgical Protestant Navy chaplains

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In In re: Navy Chaplaincy, (D DC, Feb. 28, 2013), the D.C. federal district court refused to issue a preliminary injunction in a suit claiming that the U.S. Navy’s chaplain selection process results in denominational favoritism that prefers Catholic and liturgical Protestant chaplains, to the disadvantage of non-liturgical Protestant chaplains. The suit brought by former chaplains, chaplain endorsing agencies and a group of churches claimed, primarily on the basis of statistical evidence, that the Navy discriminates against non-liturgical chaplains in violation of the Establishment Clause and the equal protection component of the 5th Amendment. Plaintiffs point to the unique voting procedures used by chaplains on selection boards. The court held that plaintiffs must prove discriminatory intent to show a constitutional violation, and have failed to do so. The mere disparate impact shown here was not enough to require an inference of purposeful intent. The court’s decision came after the case was remanded to it from the D.D. Circuit Court of Appeals. (See prior posting.)