House to Obama: Let furloughed chaplains serve the military

Furloughed chaplains should be able to give prayer services on a volunteer basis, according to a House vote on Saturday.

The House resolution approved in a 400-1 vote argues the Obama administration should allow contract chaplains who have been furloughed to continue offering prayer services on a volunteer basis. 

Right now, chaplains who do so could be charged with trespassing or arrested because of the government shutdown.

The only "no" vote came from Rep. Bill Enyart (D-Ill.).

The resolution, from Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), is a response to an op-ed from John Schlageter, general counsel at the Archdiocese for the Military Services. On Thursday, Schlageter claimed that it would be illegal for contract chaplains to minister on base if they have been furloughed, and could face arrest if they ignore that.

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Republicans were outraged at this possibility, and quickly developed the resolution on Friday in response.

"The First Amendment rights of our military do not sunset with the lack of appropriations or even a shutdown," said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.).

"Will our priests and ministers this weekend… are they going to be arrested if they recite a Hail Mary, if they lead in prayer?" asked Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) added that the shutdown has already delayed many of the regular services that the chaplaincy provides, often through contracted chaplains.

"There is no doubt that furloughing of personnel hired or contracted to perform the duties of military chaplains is having an effect," he said. "Just in this region, church services, baptisms, weddings have been curtailed."

Democrats supported it, although Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) criticized Republicans for springing the non-controversial resolution on Democrats Saturday morning.

"We found out about this, I found out about this, 20 minutes ago, and I think it just emblematic about how much this body has broken down," Smith said. "We have to talk to each other.

"The complete and utter breakdown in communication between the majority party, the minority party, the Senate and the House, the White House and us, is doing an unbelievable disservice to this country."