Lawyers for Phil Veitch of Jacksonville, N.C., say he was accused byRoman Catholic and Episcopal chaplains overseeing his work of preaching"nonpluralism" in a Navy chapel in Naples, Italy, and charge he wasforced to resign because he refused to stop preaching about hisconservative Christian beliefs.
"Pluralism means you respect all other faith groups ... but your ownconstitutional rights are not abridged in your own forum," Veitch, anevangelical Christian who left the Navy in September, said in aninterview. "They surely were in mine. And a devious and slippery notionof pluralism has arisen which in effect ends up neutering and defangingconstitutional privileges."
His case is one of several in an ongoing controversy that pits theU.S. Navy against evangelical and mostly nonliturgical members of itschaplain corps.
On Feb. 9, a District of Columbia federal judge heard arguments inthe case. Veitch's lawyers are hoping to obtain a preliminary injunctionthat will lead to Veitch's reinstatement pending a full trial.
The Navy is not commenting on the specifics of the cases against itby the chaplains.
"It's pending resolution and it would be inappropriate to comment onit at this time," Cmdr. Betsy Bird, spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy saidwhen asked about the Veitch case.
Since the court hearing, Veitch's lawyers have begun collectingstatements from those who attended chapel services at naval facilitiesin Naples.
"When Phil Veitch was removed from the pulpit for failure to preachpluralism among religions ... it didn't just impact him, it impacted thehundreds of members of the Protestant chapel congregation at Naples,"said Steve Aden, one of Veitch's lawyers and chief litigation counsel atthe Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville, Va.
"They lost their leader, their spiritual leader. They lost theirpastor."
He hopes the court will decide about Veitch's reinstatement within amonth.
Veitch, 47, is affiliated with the Reformed Episcopal Church, anevangelical denomination that broke off from the then-ProtestantEpiscopal Church in the late 1800s. He is now unemployed.
Aden said the case fits into a larger array of claims against theNavy.
"I think Phil Veitch's experience is one example of what we think isdozens of instances of discrimination against evangelical chaplains inthe Navy," he said.
Since 1999, there have been three cases filed against the Navy,including those of a San Diego chaplain, the Chaplaincy of Full GospelChurches, which endorses charismatic chaplains, and a class action suitthat alleges "illegal religious quotas" for promotions and careeropportunities for chaplains. In all the cases, chaplains claim they havebeen discriminated against because of their nonliturgical or evangelicalbeliefs.
"Naples typifies the prejudice -- and I would underline that wordprejudice -- against evangelical Navy people -- both chaplains and theNavy people themselves," said Art Schulcz, who also represents Veitch aswell as chaplains in the class action and Chaplaincy of Full GospelChurches cases.
The class action suit has been delayed because the judge overseeingit died earlier this month.
Lynette S. Williams, a spokeswoman for the Navy Chief of Chaplains,denied there is any quota system for chaplain promotions.
"There are no quotas involved in a promotion in any field, not justthe chaplain corps," she said.
The Navy installed Rear Adm. Barry C. Black as chief of chaplains inAugust. He is the first Seventh-day Adventist and the firstAfrican-American to serve in the position.
Schulcz, who is based in Vienna, Va., said the Veitch casedemonstrates the need for improvements in the Navy to meet the worshipneeds of its personnel.
"In Naples, you have very limited options," he said. "This is notlike Washington, D.C., where you can walk down the street, where you youcan find a chapel or a church that you like. You have a language barrierproblem."
Since the filing of the several suits, Southern Baptist Conventionofficials have investigated possible mistreatment of chaplains they haveendorsed. David Mullis, chaplaincy associate for the military for theSouthern Baptist North American Mission Board, said he now is hopefulabout the future for Southern Baptist and other chaplains in the Navy.
"What we're doing is looking forward to the days ahead as opposed totrying to sort out what happened in the days past," said Mullis, whodeclined to comment on the suits. "My conclusion is that the days aheadare very bright for chaplains of all faith groups and the qualificationsfor promotion for assignment is those that are best qualified."