House: Shutdown shouldn't stop religious services at military installations

MGN Online
Saturday, October 5, 2013 - 3:47pm

The House of Representatives was nearly unanimous in a Saturday vote that mandated military installations around the country continue to provide religious services during the government shutdown.

The measure, which needed a two-thirds majority of support in the House, passed by a vote of 400-1. The only no vote came from Rep. William Enyart, D-Illinois.

The measure was not a spending measure and only expressed that Congress did not want the Department of Defense to suspend religious programs during the shutdown for fear that it "threatens the ability of members of the armed services and their families to exercise their First Amendment rights to worship and participate in religious activities."

Despite the fact that certain service members were working during the shutdown, the Defense Department decided to furlough civilian and contract workers because the department lacked an appropriations bill. This move included some religious leaders.

"At a time when the military is considering alternative sources of funding for sporting events at the service academies, no one seems to be looking for funding to ensure the free exercise rights of Catholics in uniform," John Schlageter, general counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, told CNN. "Why not?"

The Defense Department had allowed football teams from military service academies to play Saturday despite the shutdown because, they said, the game is paid for with non-appropriated funds.

This shortage of chaplains appalled some lawmakers.

"There's no doubt the furloughing of people hired or contracted to perform the duties of military chaplains is having an effect," said Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina.

The resolution was sponsored by Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, who serves as a U.S. Air Force Reserve chaplain.

While heading to the floor to vote, some Democratic lawmakers were surprised the bill was being brought up.

"I did not know Speaker Boehner was going to put it on the floor," said Rep. Steve Israel, a New York Democrat.

House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy said the bill should not have come as a surprise and was brought up Saturday -- along with a bill to pay all furloughed employees for their time away from the job -- so it could ideally be enacted ahead of Sunday religious services.

"It was brought up because the attention just came up," McCarthy said as he raced to the floor. "They have a First Amendment right."

Shortly after the vote, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that most Department of Defense civilian employees "placed on emergency furlough during the government shutdown will be asked to return to work beginning next week."

Hagel said his department, along with the Justice Department, concluded that the law does allow the Department of Defense to eliminate furloughs for employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members.


Comments News Comments

Post new Comment