In a stunning development, some military priests are facing arrest if they celebrate mass or practice their faith on military bases during the federal government shutdown.
“With the government shutdown, many [government service] and contract priests who minister to Catholics on military bases worldwide are not permitted to work – not even to volunteer,” wrote John Schlageter, the general counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services USA, in an op-ed this week. “During the shutdown, it is illegal for them to minister on base and they risk being arrested if they attempt to do so.”
Kansas representative and Army veteran Mike Pompeo (R) is righteously angry:
“The constitutional rights of those who put their lives on the line for this nation do not end with a government slowdown,” Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo, a graduate of West Point and an Army veteran, said in a Friday statement. ”It is completely irresponsible for the president to turn his back on every American’s First Amendment rights by furloughing military contract clergy.”
Added Pompeo: “The President’s strategy during the slowdown, just as during the sequestration, is to create as much pain as possible. However, this action crosses a constitutional line of obstructing every U.S. service member’s ability to practice his or her religion.”
I’m not sure I agree with Pompeo’s 1st amendment argument; if there are Catholic churches near the bases, the soldiers can simply be given leave time. Also, while unusual, it is possible to hold a limited service without a priest present. Confession and absolution would be dicier, I imagine, and I’d can’t imagine they’d dare try to arrest a priest there to perform the Anointing of the Sick. But, at a minimum, Catholic personnel are probably feeling a bit picked on. (The article doesn’t say if the same restrictions are being applied to ministers and rabbis.)
But, as with the fiasco over the veterans and access to monuments, you have to ask what is going through the heads of people in the administration who gave this order. The optics are awful enough when the government, in effect, says “Your spiritual well-being is non-essential,” but to say no even to priests who offer to work for free? Really? The Republicans should send Team Unicorn a thank-you card; the campaign commercials on this would be just brutal.
All they need now to complete this is for Harry Reid to issue another one of his caring, empathetic, milk-of-human-kindness statements.
(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)