U.S. Navy Allows Service Members to Attend In-Person Church Services During Coronavirus Pandemic

The U.S. Navy has clarified an order on in-person gatherings to allow personnel to gather for indoor worship services after members of Congress raised concern that the order barred service members from attending churches and houses of worship. 

Last month, the First Liberty Institute, a legal group representing service members, voiced concern that a June 24 order barred service members from attending indoor worship gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic while permitting other, secular forms of indoor activity.

Concern about the order was also raised by two Republican members of Congress in a July 1 letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

But on Wednesday evening, Acting Undersecretary of the Navy Greg Slavonic sent out a memo clarifying that in-person worship was permissible, provided measures are taken to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“[The order should not] be construed to restrict attendance at places of worship where attendees are able to appropriately apply COVID-19 transmission mitigation measures, specifically social distancing and use of face covering,” wrote Slavonic in the memo.

“I am directing you to ensure that all Service guidance reflects the reference message and to inform Commanders to incorporate this clarification allowing attendance at religious services where COVID-19 transmission mitigation measures may be appropriately applied.”

The First Liberty Institute, a conservative religious freedom law firm which had been representing chaplain Daniel Schultz and others who complained about earlier limitations, praised the memo.

First Liberty General Counsel Mike Berry said in a statement Thursday that this was “a major victory for the Constitution and for religious freedom within our military.”

“We are grateful to Acting Undersecretary Slavonic and Navy leadership for righting this ship, and to Commander-in-Chief Trump for making religious liberty a priority,” stated Berry.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Michael Gryboski