The Defense Department has furloughed the civilians and contractors who perform religious services on military bases.
This morning, the House voted, 400-1, that religious services on any property owned or maintained by the Defense Department should be allowed during the shutdown “in the same manner and to the same extent as religious services are otherwise available.” The congressional resolution also states that all chaplains should be able to continue working.
The vote was necessary only because, according to John Schlageter, the general counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services USA:
With the government shutdown, many GS and contract priests who minister to Catholics on military bases worldwide are not permitted to work – not even to volunteer. During the shutdown, it is illegal for them to minister on base and they risk being arrested if they attempt to do so.
Any administration edict prohibiting priests from performing religious ceremonies on military bases -- on a volunteer basis -- stands in direct violation of the spirit of the First Amendment's free exercise clause.
Under Catholic Church law, Catholics are obligated to attend Holy Mass on Sunday. It is unthinkable that the Obama administration would actually sanction the arrest of Catholic priests just because they sought to minister to their flock, and to help them fulfill their religious obligations.
Civil disobedience is never something to be undertaken lightly. But if a situation ever demanded it, this is the one. The priests must and should defy that prohibition.