Father Ray Leonard, a Catholic priest based in St. Marys, Ga., is suing the Obama administration after claiming he was barred from celebrating Mass at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay due to the partial government shutdown and threatened with possible arrest if he defied orders.
On Oct. 14, Leonard, a contractor who was recently hired to be a base chaplain, joined military veteran Fred Naylor in suing the Department of Defense in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, LifeSiteNews.com reported.
The claim at the center of the complaint is that Catholics were forbidden from holding religious services. The Thomas Moore Law Center, a conservative legal group that is representing the priest, claims that Leonard was told that ”if he violated that order, he could be subject to arrest.”
A sign displayed on the door of the base chapel reads, “Catholic Mass will be suspended until further notice.”
On October 4, 2013, Fr. Leonard was ordered to stop performing all of his duties as the base’s Catholic Chaplain, even on a voluntary basis. He was also told that he could be arrested if he violated that order. The approximately 300 Catholic families, including Fred Naylor’s, served by Fr. Leonard at Kings Bay have been unable to attend Mass on base since the beginning of the shutdown.
Additionally, Fr. Leonard was locked out of his on-base office and the chapel. Fr. Leonard was also denied access to the Holy Eucharist and other articles of his Catholic faith. The order has caused the cancellation of daily and weekend mass, confession, marriage preparation classes and baptisms as well as prevented Fr. Leonard from providing the spiritual guidance he was called by his faith to provide.
Leonard has been vocal about the restrictions placed on him during the shutdown.
“This is our church, Catholics have an expectation and obligation to attend Mass and we were told, ‘No you can’t go to church this week,” he said earlier this month, according to CBN News. “My parishioners were upset. They were angry and dismayed. They couldn’t believe that in America they’d be denied access to mass by the government.”
Defendants in the case are the Department of Defense, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the Department of the Navy and Secretary of the Department of the Navy Ray Mabus.
TheBlaze previously reported that contracted faith leaders, like other non-essential employees, are not permitted to work, nor are they allowed to volunteer, during the shutdown.
Update: The government has allowed the priest to return to his post, but there are no plans to halt the lawsuit over the alleged violations that already occurred. A press release from the TMLC reads, in part:
Late yesterday afternoon, in response to the lawsuit, three attorneys from the Department of Justice contacted TMLC attorney Erin Mersino by phone and indicated that Father Leonard could resume all of his religious duties beginning this morning, and that the Chapel would be open for all Catholic activities. These representations made by the Department of Justice attorneys were confirmed by orders to Father Leonard delivered through the Navy chain of command.