An Unexpected Downfall: Government Shutdown and Religion
When the government closed its doors, most military families’ first concern was pay. Once we learned that we would still get paid, or at least that most military-associated financial institutions would lend us our paychecks, our next concern was services. Where do we go for healthcare? What stores and family service offices were open? Who was considered essential versus non-essential when it came to the civilians that work with the military?
One of the most unexpected downfalls in the government shutdown for some military families was the lack of religious services provided over the past weekend. Although most bases have an assigned chaplain, there is not a chaplain for every religious denomination. Many bases will contract out for civilian ministers of particular denominations for Saturday and Sunday services. Once the government shutdown, the contracted civilian ministers and priests were furloughed and asked not to perform services on military installations.
Although almost every denomination has been affected by the government shutdown, Catholics seemed to have been hit the hardest. There is a shortage of Catholic chaplains in the military, which leads to several military installations using contracted priests. John Schlageter, general counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services wrote in a statement that “With the government shutdown, (non-active duty ministers) and contract priests who minister to Catholics on military bases worldwide are not permitted to work — not even to volunteer.” His statement went further to say that, “If a Catholic family has a baptism scheduled at the base chapel at Langley AFB this weekend, unless they can locate a priest who is not a GS (non-active duty minister) or contract priest, they should consider it canceled.”
Despite the furlough, many ministers and priests offered to perform their denomination’s service without pay. However, they were forbidden even to volunteer and faced the possibility of arrest if they violated this statute. Many military members that I spoke to over the weekend were upset by the news that Sunday service may not be available where they are stationed. Some claimed it was a violation of their First Amendment. Some were outraged to the point of discussing protest. However, others understood that it is part of the furlough. They knew they would have to attend service at another church this week, or for perhaps the next few weeks. They chalked it up to having an opportunity to go to a service they would normally not attend.
Government workers have been hit hard by the furlough, and some of those employees have been hit harder than others. Although there is a common understanding of what is “government run” and what is not, some closures were still a surprise. The Department of Defense has called back all of their civilian employees this week, but some contracted employees such as ministers and priests may still be furloughed until the government reopens.
Are there any services, religious or not, whose doors unexpectedly closed for you? Did you experience your Sunday service disrupted because of the furlough? Leave a comment below and share your experiences!