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The Navy updated its coronavirus restrictions after chaplains and a religious liberty law firm complained last week alleging that service members were being unlawfully prohibited from attending indoor religious services.
Capt. Sarah Self-Kyler, director of Fleet Public Affairs, told Fox News the temporary measures have been in place since late March to protect the health and safety of sailors and their families, noting that conditions still “prohibit Sailors from attending off-base indoor religious services, and remain necessary given existing medical information about the current rise in COVID-19 cases in certain locations throughout the country.”
However, if conditions are met locally, as they are by several Navy installations across the country, “Sailors are not prohibited from attending off-base indoor religious services,” she said.
Archbishop Timothy Broglio, Archbishop of U.S. Military Services, celebrates Mass with U.S. and Italian service members deployed to Nigerien Air Base 101 in Niamey, Niger, Nov. 3, 2019. (Courtesy Photo)
On June 29, Major Daniel Schultz, USAF, currently assigned to a Navy command, requested a religious accommodation to attend the church where he leads worship alleging an newly issued order banned attending indoor services while permitting house parties and protests.
Two days later, the U.S. Fleet Forces told Fox News it updated the order for in-residence gatherings, limiting it to 10 people and removing the word “social.”
“The Navy works to support every Sailor’s religious practices to the broadest extent possible within the bounds of military readiness, health, and safety,” Self-Kyler said. “These provisions, among others outlined in the original message, are essential to safeguarding the health, safety, and welfare of our service members and ensuring the Navy’s operational readiness.”
Mike Berry, the First Liberty Institute general counsel who sent a letter on behalf of Shultz last week, expressed assurance that the Navy would do the right thing in light of President Trump’s executive actions.
“Under the leadership of Commander in Chief Trump, we are confident the Navy will follow the President’s executive order on religious liberty in support of the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces,” Berry told Fox News.