5th lawsuit by Navy chaplains adds to discrimination charges

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PENSACOLA, Fla. — A chaplain who says he was told he had three strikes against him early in his Navy career is one of 41 current or former chaplains who have filed a fifth lawsuit against the Navy for discrimination.

Walter Marsh Jr. of Slidell, La., recounted in the lawsuit that a year after he went on active duty in 1984 the liturgical command chaplain at San Diego's Naval Training Station commented, "I hope you're not planning on making this a career because you already have three strikes against you. You're the wrong sex, the wrong color and the wrong religion."

After moving to Camp Pendleton, Marsh said the liturgical command chaplain threatened never to promote Marsh and made it clear that chaplain promotion boards were a tool to keep non-liturgical chaplains in line. Marsh said he later had to serve a two-year tour away from his family and finally was forced out of the Navy.

Marsh is one of 41 evangelicals involved in the latest class-action lawsuit against the Navy.

Although filed in late April, attorney Arthur Schulcz told Baptist Press that the plaintiffs are awaiting a ruling on a motion by the U.S. Department of Justice to move the case to district court in Washington, D.C. Schulcz opposes the move.

Schulcz, who now represents 68 plaintiffs in five different cases, said the exact numbers injured by Navy chaplaincy policies is unknown, but estimates it involves at least 1,200 people.

Similar to the other suits filed over the past seven years, the latest lawsuit claims the Navy has violated the Constitution in its promotion and retention of chaplains.

Its claims include unconstitutional composition of chaplain selection boards, establishing denominational preferences, illegal quotas for promotions and career opportunities, and creating a religious patronage system within the Chaplain Corps.

The lawsuit also contends that the Navy has created a pervasive climate of bias, animosity and deceit and has violated non-liturgical chaplains' free speech and religious rights.

The Navy did not respond to a request for a comment concerning the suit.