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Pastor Confronts Ban on Military Personnel’s Political Engagement

BY Molly Mulqueen

December 15-21, 1996 Issue | Posted 12/15/96 at 2:00 AM

 

Like other military personnel, chaplains are employees of the federal government, and as such, are subject to some restrictions on their speech and behavior, especially when it comes to political activity. Chaplains are limited as to when, where and how they can speak out on a moral issue with political implications.

On Sept. 10 of this year, a Catholic Air Force Reserve chaplain, Lt. Col. Vincent Rigdon, filed suit against the Air Force in U.S. District Court, claiming that those rules violated his right to free speech and religion. He was joined in the suit by a Jewish Air Force chaplain, a Protestant Navy assistant chaplain, and the Muslim American Military Association.

The Air Force Times reported that their complaint concerns the directive issued by each of the military services last summer prohibiting Catholic chaplains from urging parishioners from the pulpit to join in the postcard campaign urging their legislators to override President Clinton's veto of the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act.

“Military members cannot use their official authority to influence or solicit votes on a political issue,” one publication said; “no one acting in an official capacity may distribute postcards or use government resources to support the Roman Catholic Church's campaign to overturn the President's veto.”

Rigdon is reported by the Air Force Times (Oct. 7, 1996) to have followed the military line of command, consulting with his commanding officer at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, and with the Air Force Chief of Chaplains, Maj. Gen. Arthur Thomas, before filing the suit. To date, Rigdon's actions have not adversely effected his military career. Despite the Register's attempt to solicit comments, no one at the various chief of chaplains offices or the military archdiocese was at liberty to discuss the case.