Kings Bay, Georgia (CBS ATLANTA) — A Catholic Navy chaplain is the target of retaliation from the federal government after he refused to stop practicing religious services during the recent government shutdown, a lawsuit against the Department of Defense alleges.
Rev. Ray Leonard filed an initial lawsuit in October against the DOD after being threatened with arrest for performing Mass or entering the chapel at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia during the partial government shutdown in October. An amended complaint against the government from the Thomas More Law Center – representing Rev. Leonard – looks to protect him from further retaliation after his contract was later cancelled as no longer “valid.”
As a means of preventing future retaliation, the new complaint will continue despite the Department of Justice indicating that he could resume his duties as Navy Chaplain. Originally, Leonard was ordered to cease all duties at the Naval base during the partial government shutdown, even on a voluntary basis.
Leonard had returned from ten years ministering in impoverished regions of China, and compared the threat from the US Government to that of Chinese religious persecution in the complaint affidavit:
“In China, I was disallowed from performing public religious services due to the lack of religious freedom in China. I never imagined that when I returned home to the United States, that I would be forbidden from practicing my religious beliefs as I am called to do, and would be forbidden from helping and serving my faith community.”
The amended complaint from Leonard alleges that on Oct. 21 the government sought a new, “valid” employment contract just one week after Leonard made public the government’s “unconstitutional actions,” the TMLC complaint states.
The week prior, Leonard was under his original contract, which the government “inexplicably refused” to pay for in November. The complaint alleges that the government withheld income throughout the month before finally approving payment to Leonard at the end of December.
Attorney Erin Mersino, representing Leonard, writes on the firm’s website:
“The Petition Clause of the First Amendment protects individuals who challenge the unconstitutional actions of the government from retaliation,” reads the comment.
“The Archdiocese for the Military Services confirmed that no other military chaplain contracts were under review or subjected to the same scrutiny as Father Leonard’s. Thus, due to the timing of the Navy’s actions and the information gleaned from the Archdiocese for the Military Services, all signs point to Father Leonard being singled out and subjected to unlawful retaliation for bringing the government’s practices to light.”