The House of Representatives on Saturday voted 400-1 to pass HCR 58 which calls on Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to allow continued religious services on military bases during the government shutdown.
The resolution, introduced by Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) came in response to an October 3rd op-ed by John Schlageter, General Counsel of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS). A news release on the website of AMS states that Schlageter had disclosed that non-active duty Catholic priests had been ordered not to work – or even volunteer – on military installations during the shutdown, making it impossible for men and women in the service at various locations to attend Mass this weekend.
At a time when the military is considering alternative sources of funding for sporting events at the service academies, no one seems to be looking for funding to ensure the Free Exercise rights of Catholics in uniform. Why not?
Collins, a U.S. Air Force chaplain and Iraq war veteran, said following the vote:
We have a Bill of Rights for a reason–that no matter the fiscal condition of the federal government, the rights of the people are guaranteed. This is a week that has seen veterans denied their right to assemble at our national monuments, travelers denied access to roads their hard-earned dollars have paid for, and now chaplains ordered to stop providing religious services to those who are selflessly willing to lay down their lives for ours… Congress is duty bound to act as quickly as possible to protect the rights of the American people, and I am proud that we did so today.
…recognizes that the performance of religious Services and the provision of ministry are protected activities under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution; urges and intends that the Secretary of Defense permit the performance of religious services on property owned or maintained by the Department of Defense, during any lapse in appropriations, in the same manner and to the same extent as such religious services are otherwise available; and urges and intends that the Secretary of Defense permit military chaplains and other personnel, including contract personnel, hired to perform duties of a military chaplain to perform religious services and ministry, during any lapse in appropriations, in the same manner and to the same extent as such chaplains and other personnel are otherwise permitted to perform religious services and ministry.
In response to the House vote, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of AMS said:
Military personnel enjoy, like all Americans, the First Amendment guarantee of the ‘Free Exercise’ of religion. In the current political climate, however, nothing can be taken for granted. I am grateful to Representative Collins and the many other House members who recognized the importance of passing this resolution, which reflects the seriousness with which the American people take their Free Exercise rights. It can only be hoped that the members of the U.S. Senate will act decisively in order to favor the same First Amendment rights.