Request filed to void Naval chaplain's appointment

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BP)--The attorney for most of the evangelical chaplains alleging discrimination by the U.S. Navy has asked a federal court to cancel a Reserve chaplain's appointment to active duty at Jacksonville, Fla.'s Naval Air Station.

A petition seeking the order was filed Nov. 25 in U.S. District Court in connection with a case filed by the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches on behalf of eight plaintiffs.

But Vienna, Va., attorney Art Schulcz, who represents 56 current and former chaplains in five lawsuits filed since 1999, said the issue affects all evangelical chaplains.

Schulcz said the appointment of a Catholic priest to the position of commander at the Jacksonville base, despite him having no prior active duty service, violates Naval regulations.

Those rules prohibit calling up reserve chaplains at the grade of lieutenant commander or higher, unless a need cannot be met through promotion of an active duty chaplain, he added.

Such prohibitions were enacted to prevent reservists from being placed on active duty in positions of authority over men who have "paid their dues," the attorney said.

"We're saying this is an example that underlines the prejudice we're alleging in these cases," Schulcz said. "They have regulations designed to eliminate friction in the ranks, and here's a guy given a free pass, contrary to the regulations. It's illegal."

According to the petition, the Navy fraudulently concealed the appointment of John Lyle to active duty by first designating his orders for call-up as a "student flight surgeon." The court filing called this a plan of deception, including orders for a flight physical qualification and flight training, which it said never occurred.

The orders also directed Lyle to report to a base at Quantico, Va., for 208 days of temporary duty starting in October of 2001, which the petition said violated federal rules.

Those rules specify a 20-week maximum for temporary duty and a maximum of 180 days in extraordinary circumstances, according to the petition. The same illegal orders transferred him to Jacksonville, "where, without any requisite active duty experience or unique qualification to meet any special need, he became the command chaplain," it said.

It claimed the Navy also used deceit by not treating Lyle's 208 days at Quantico as temporary duty, using an accounting code designed to hide his status as a Reservist being called to active duty.

Calling Reserve chaplains as lieutenant commanders or commanders reduces promotion, retention and career opportunities for junior career officers, the petition said.

Such action generates resentment among active duty officers who have to pay "dues" via deployments, family separations, long hours and dangerous assignments for the opportunity to compete for promotions, it added.

"This is why the (regulations) forbid such recalls," the petition said. "Complicit Department of Navy officials appear to have deliberately orchestrated these violations to cover up the illicit nature of (Cmdr.) Lyle's access and his preferential treatment by deceiving the personnel system and defrauding the finance system.

"This whole occurrence illustrates the Navy's practice of preferring for some favored denominations while prejudicing (evangelical) plaintiffs."

In a previous filing in this case, the Navy's chief of chaplains stated that chaplain promotions had become competitive, the petition said.

Thus, it cannot now deny that serving as a command chaplain is an important consideration when considering candidates for promotion, it said. Likewise, the Navy cannot deny that illegally depriving an active duty commander or lieutenant commander the opportunity to serve as a command chaplain is prejudice, the petition said.

"In orchestrating a cover up of these blatantly regulatory violations, the conspiracy has resulted in waste, fraud and abuse," it stated.

"The (Navy's) active facilitation of, and involvement in, these conspiratorial actions prejudices plaintiffs and illustrates the very pattern of abuse and bias identified in the plaintiffs' complaints, which these suits seek to eliminate."

The petition asks the federal court to issue an order (known as a writ of mandamus) directing the Secretary of the Navy to:

-- Follow his own regulations concerning the recall of Naval Reserve chaplains for active duty in the Chaplain Corps;

-- Comply with government accounting, expenditure and financial reporting standards;

-- Investigate waste, fraud and abuse arising from these violations, and

-- Where possible, recoup funds illegally spent through the alleged conspiracy.

Although the Department of Justice, which is representing the Navy, has a policy of not commenting on court filings, the government is expected to file a response to the petition by the second week of December.

The Navy's public affairs office has also repeatedly declined to comment on the lawsuits.


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