WASHINGTON -- A federal judge has ruled that as many as 1,000 current or former Navy chaplains may take part in a religious-discrimination suit against the military service.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ruled this week that a suit filed by 25 Baptist, Evangelical and Pentecostal chaplains -- claiming that the Navy illegally favors Catholics, Episcopalians and other liturgical chaplains over their nonliturgical peers -- had cleared the legal hurdles to be certified as a class action.
The ruling means that the case now includes all current or former Navy chaplains who served between 1988 and 2002, not just the named plaintiffs. The judge's decision is based not on the merits of the case, but on the plaintiffs' ability to demonstrate they could represent all other similarly situated chaplains.
The stakes are now much higher for the Navy because the pool of plaintiffs, and therefore the potential damages, has multiplied greatly. The plaintiffs are arguing that they have been passed up for promotion, forced to retire early or otherwise unfairly treated because of their faiths.
Arthur A. Schulcz Sr., the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said the Navy for years has employed a far higher percentage of Catholic and liturgical priests than of the faiths represented in the Navy's enlisted ranks.
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