DC Circuit: Non-liturgical Protestant chaplains have standing to pursue discrimination claim

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In In re Navy Chaplaincy, (DC Cir., Nov. 2, 2012), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed a district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit by several former and current military chaplains who claimed that non-liturgical Protestant chaplains are discriminated against in the promotion recommendations of Chaplain Corps selection boards. Plaintiffs argued that the small size of selection boards, their secret voting on recommendations, and the appointment of the Chief of Chaplains as president of selection boards allow decisions to be made on the basis of religious bias. Reversing the district court, the Court of Appeals held that at least some of the plaintiffs– those whose promotions will likely be considered in the future under the challenged policies– have standing to pursue their claim for injunctive relief. The Court went on to reverse and remand the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction, saying that the trial court had not made factual findings to resolve the disputed claims of the parties as to whether past discrimination has been shown.