Our Ruling Class Continues Experimenting on the Only Part of the Population Completely Under Their Jackboot Heel

Our troops. Outrage du jour:

In the wake of the government shutdown, despite provisions in the Pay Our Military Act, Catholics at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia are being denied religious services. The Catholic priest who serves this community has been prohibited from even volunteering to celebrate Holy Mass without pay, and was told that if he violated that order, he could be subject to arrest. Protestant services continue to take place. Only Catholic services have been shutdown.

Why do they keep jerking our troops around? Because they can. Because they deeply believe they are better than the rest of us. Because our troops are powerless to resist. Because they are evil and self-absorbed and see our troops as the first wave of the lab rat population they would love to turn us all into.

Meanwhile, some are starting to mount a resistance to the feckless fools in our Ruling Class.

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  • jroberts548

    If congress tells the executive branch it can’t work, then the executive branch can’t work. An Obama that let the executive branch continue operating despite congress forbidding it to do so would be a tyrant, not a president.

    This isn’t about our ruling class jerking the troops around, except insomuch as the shutdown as a whole was about jerking our troops (and everyone else) around. Fr. Leonard’s specific claim is narrowly about the interpretation of the hastily and poorly drafted Pay Our Military Act, the Anti-Deficiency Act, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I think you can make plausible arguments either way about whether the POMA covers civilian contractor priests, but it’s moot anyway now that the shutdown is over, as the POMA expires as soon as there’s been an appropriation.

    Hopefully, when the idiots in the House of Representatives do this again in January, they draft a POMA that’s less ambiguous.

    • jroberts548

      Looking through the counts in the complaint:

      I. The RFRA complaint looks pretty plausible.

      II. The First Amendment claim, under current precedent, won’t work. The Anti-Deficiency Act is a generally applicable law, not targeted at Catholics but at civilian employees.

      III. The § 1983 claim will and ought be immediately dismissed. The anti-deficiency act is a federal statute, not a statute of any state or territory. You can only bring a § 1983 action if someone acts to deprive you of your rights under color of state law. If someone deprives you of your rights under color of federal law, § 1983 doesn’t apply.

      IV. This First Amendment claim also won’t work, for the same reason as the other one.

    • Congress cannot ban the normal expression of a vocation. The anti-deficiency act does not trump the 1st amendment.

      Your description of what actually happened is a little sparse on the facts. In the face of presidential veto threats, the Senate sat on bills getting the government working. This is somewhat different than a helpless executive acceding to a dysfunctional and bullying Congress.

      • jroberts548

        The Anti-Deficiency Act tells the executive branch that it and its agents, such as civilian contractors, can’t work without an appropriation. There was no appropriation. It doesn’t matter, for purposes of the Anti-Deficiency Act, why there was no appropriation.

        And let’s grant, arguendo, that the executive deserves 100% of the blame for the shutdown. So what? Should the President be able to cause a shutdown and then ignore the restrictions congress has placed on him in the anti-deficiency act? If the executive branch was allowed to continue operating as it wants without an appropriation, and the president could just veto an appropriation, the president would never sign an appropriation, since it would only limit his power.

        And congress doesn’t have to ban the normal expression of a vocation. Congress didn’t ban that. They did ban letting federal employees and contractors work for free. Working for the federal government for free isn’t the normal expression of a vocation.

        ETA: Let’s suppose Obama had a religious belief that he should run the government as normal even without an appropriations bill. Would that allow him to ignore the appropriations clause and the anti-deficiency act?

        • The situation was that the President has ignored precedent and closed down things that were not his to close down. This is not the first government shutdown ever to happen. A significant number of private services were shut down by the government because they rented federal land for parking or the entrance to the facility ran through federal land. A small number of inholders were even evicted from their homes.

          I think it would be reasonable to look back to the last multi-week shutdown and ask what happened to Catholic services back then. If they were permitted to go forward then but were shut down now (which I believe was the case) would you concede that your scenario is wrong?

          • jroberts548

            No, I would conclude that Bill Clinton should have been impeached earlier, and then convicted and removed from office or otherwise censured, unless Congress had passed some bill allowing civilian employee priests to work absent an appropriation. Clinton breaking the law doesn’t give Obama an excuse to break the law.

            If there’s no appropriation, the executive branch is forbidden from doing it. That’s the system created by our constitution and reinforced by the Anti-Deficiency Act.

            • Who mentioned Clinton? We’ve been having these shutdowns since President Carter. Reagan had eight of them. So we should have impeached Carter, Reagan, GHW Bush, and Clinton because they obviously got it wrong and only Obama got it right?

              If there’s no appropriation, they are also forbidden from spending money to exclude people. They were spending money raising and defending barriers to stop people from pulling over and looking at Mt. Rushmore.

              Give me a break.

              • jroberts548

                (Edited. My original response continued a useless, off-topic discussion about Mt. Rushmore).

                Which statute or constitutional provision gives Obama the authority to let Fr. Leonard work for him? Without that – without some constitutional or statutory grant of power – the President lacks that power.

                I don’t care if Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton also got it wrong. The President has no power that doesn’t come from the constitution or from congress. There’s no “Because I like Catholic priests” exception.

                So, there’s one, and only one relevant question. What gives Obama the authority to let people work for him when congress has failed to pass an appropriations bill? If you can’t tell me which part of the constitution or which delegation of power from Congress gives Obama that power, then I don’t know what you’re upset about, unless your position is the insane one that Obama’s powers are too limited.

                • The question at issue is whether
                  31 USC § 1342 can legitimately restrict freedom of religion guaranteed by the 1st amendment. People are restricted from volunteering and working for the government without pay in order to avoid sham situations. That’s not the case here. Absent the above clause, there’s nothing stopping anybody from volunteering to work for the government.
                  Obama has nothing to do with it, other than his provocation of this useless crisis.

                  • jroberts548

                    Which statute gives the executive branch permission to let people work for free?

                    • 31 USC § 1342

                    • jroberts548

                      31 U.S.C. § 1342 only allows people to work for free in emergency situations necessary to protect human life or property. It does not allow Fr. Leonard to work for free. In fact, it expressly forbids anyone in the government from accepting free labor.

                      ETA: In fact, the complaint undermines the claim that he was trying to work for free. In ¶ 10, Fr. Leonard claims that he entered into a contract on 10/1/13 with the DOD to provide mass for the base. Unless Fr. Leonard doesn’t have access to a newspaper or the internet, he should have known that the DOD did not have any funds with which to enter into a contract. Preventing members of the executive branch from entering into contracts is what the Anti-Deficiency Act is for.

                      Edited further: Without the contract, Fr. Leonard has as much right to say mass on base as I do, unless he’s taking the radical position that he and everyone else (since the first amendment doesn’t care if you’re ordained) has a right to say mass on base. But he can’t rely on the contract because of the Anti-Deficiency Act. If he can win at all, it’s under the Pay Our Military Act (which expired last night anyway, so other than a declaratory judgment interpreting a no longer existing law, there isn’t anything he can win). He might be able to argue that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act bars the application of the Anti-Deficiency Act to priests in this case, but he wasn’t arrested, so it isn’t clear what legally cognizable harm he suffered, and ¶ 64, seeking an injunction, doesn’t matter now, since the shutdown is over.

                      If some random gullah shaman showed up at the base, and wanted to perform a gullah ritual but couldn’t because of the shutdown, would he have a first amendment based claim? Without the contract, Fr. Leonard is in exactly the same position.

                    • You asked a simple question. I gave you a legal reference (for the second time as you obviously didn’t look it up the first time). In amidst all that long response is the implicit acceptance that the reference does indeed allow some people to work for the government as volunteers.

                      You seem to take as given that the anti-deficiency act and all the other legislation you refer to trump the religious liberty rights protected by the 1st amendment. That legislation trumps the Constitution is not how the judiciary usually sees things. This is a matter under litigation so time will tell where the USSC comes down on the question. Until then, perhaps you might consider a little humility about how the Court must rule.

                    • jroberts548

                      The law you cited generally forbids people from working for free, with an emergency exception.

                      How does Fr. Leonard fall within the regency exception? And do you really think everyone has a first amendment right to do whatever rituals they want on a submarine base?

                      Here’s the text of § 1342: An officer or employee of the United States Government or of the District of Columbia government may not accept voluntary services for either government or employ personal services exceeding that authorized by law except for emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property. This section does not apply to a corporation getting amounts to make loans (except paid in capital amounts) without legal liability of the United States Government. As used in this section, the term “emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property” does not include ongoing, regular functions of government the suspension of which would not imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property.

                      Wherever you “looked it up” apparently contained only a bad paraphrase. Section 1342 forbids people from working for the government for free, except for emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.

                      Generally applicable, content-neutral laws don’t violate the first amendment. A law forbidding peyote, for instance, doesn’t violate the first amendment, even though some people use peyote for religious purposes. The first amendment doesn’t – can’t – distinguish among religions. The first amendment doesn’t give everyone a right to practice their religion however they want wherever they want. If a Santeria practitioner showed up on base with a chicken and knife, the MPs wouldn’t have to let him use the chapel. If members of certain Indian tribes want to smoke peyote on base, tough luck. Maybe you disagree with it, but generally applicable statutes that don’t target religion don’t violate the first amendment. Otherwise, there’d be a lot more Rastafarians and a lot fewer federal jails.

                    • I’m not particularly interested in moving goalposts. You asked a specific question right after I gave a legal reference that would have answered that question. So I gave the reference again. Yes, there are circumstances where government workers volunteer. The circumstances cover about 80% of the government so this is not a particularly rare thing but you were making it out like virtually nobody could volunteer, something that isn’t even in dispute.

                      Now you come back with a response that pretends as if my answer wasn’t responsive to the question you were actually asking. This is annoying. The response further annoys because it sets up a straw man (the submarine base case) as if it has relevance. If the base commander decides that a particular ceremony is or is not ok to have, that’s not something a shutdown should be affecting unless there’s money being spent.

                      I’m not in the mood today for one more internet showdown with a goal post shifting, straw man constructing sloppy arguer. The issue going before the court is whether 31 USC § 1342 is consistent with the US Constitution, specifically the 1st amendment and whether the RFRA or 1342 is the controlling legislation in this particular case. Frankly, I don’t know how that’s going to play out. What I do know is that were it a slam dunk either way the suit would not be permitted to go forward.

                    • jroberts548

                      Your answer wasn’t responsive. If I ask which statute allows government employees to work for free, the statute that forbids employees from working for free except in an emergency is not the answer. The Anti-Deficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. § 1342, forbids employees from working for free. It forbids employees from letting others work for free. The exceptions are if there’s been some authorization in the law to let the person work for free, or if it’s an emergency. You need to read the whole statute*, rather than whatever bad paraphrase you’re using.

                      Was there an emergency? Did Fr. Leonard need to say mass in order to protect the safety of human life or the protection of property? Is there another statute letting Fr. Leonard work for free? If not, then § 1342 doesn’t give the executive branch to let him work for free.

                      And it hasn’t been permitted to go forward. It’s been filed. I don’t even know if the DOD has been served yet. They haven’t had the chance to file an answer or motion to dismiss yet. You don’t need permission from the court to file a lawsuit. If you go crazy and decide that Michael Vick stole your dogs and sold them to Iran to buy missiles for Al Qaeda, while illegal selling hats, caps, and mugs with your name on it, you can sue Michael Vick. No one is going to stop you from filing a completely insane and frivolous lawsuit. No one has to give you permission to file a lawsuit, no matter how baseless it is.

                      My submarine base case isn’t a straw man. There are people whose religion involves smoking peyote. They are not allowed to do so on submarine bases. Why? The laws against smoking peyote are generally applicable, and thus don’t infringe the first amendment. Not being allowed to do your job when there’s been no appropriation for you to do your job is likewise a generally applicable law. It doesn’t infringe on the first amendment.

                      So, until you cite to something that actually lets the executive branch accept free labor, I’ll ask again:

                      Which statute or constitutional provision gives the executive branch permission to let people work for free?

                      *Here’s the relevant text of § 1342. Can you tell me how § 1342 allows Fr. Leonard to work for free? “An officer or employee of the United States Government or of the District of Columbia government may not accept voluntary services for either government or employ personal services exceeding that authorized by law except for emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

  • AquinasMan

    “The Catholic priest who serves this community has been prohibited from even volunteering to celebrate Holy Mass without pay, and was told that if he violated that order, he could be subject to arrest.”

    So…. the first thing he did was celebrate Mass, right?

    • This is a more difficult decision than you might think. My own corner of the Church faced this back post WW II in Romania. Short version, the byzantines defied, the latins bent. The byzantines would not have survived without the shelter provided by the latins, shelter I personally benefitted from at my baptism.

      The appropriate strategy here is not necessarily straightforward defiance in the form of civil disobedience. It may one day come to that. We must not seek to hasten the day.

  • Elmwood

    The priest(s) involved is a contractor (paid by the government) to celebrate mass for the troops on base. The protestants are likely active duty chaplains. The government as a rule can’t accept gifts from contractors. This is considered an ethical issue in our government bureaucracy. The troops can get into their cars and drive off base for mass. I’m sure they could find a ride and 16 miles isn’t that far away for our automobile america.

    This is hardly a Jackboot Heel on the troops and is more about right wing propaganda against Obama (the most evil man to ever walk the earth). The problem is that there wasn’t an active duty chaplain available for liturgy.

    Should Obama have made an executive decision to allow them onto base? Sure, IMO, but it isn’t something that was in any form close to religious discrimination or a religious freedom issue like the HHS mandate is.

  • Chesire11

    The day after the suit was filed, the DoJ advised him he would not be arrested, or prohibited from saying mass on base. Also, a week ago the Department of the Navy, followed by the Air Force just yesterday informed the Archdiocese for the Military Services that contract priests WOULD be allowed to celebrate masses on military and naval bases…


    Believe it or not, not every action of the government comes from the president’s personal notepad. When you shut down the government, there is a lot of confusion as a huge, integrated system is told to shut down some functions, reduce others, and keep still others fully functioning, albeit with reduced staffing. As a consequence, the standard operating procedures by which most of their work is accomplished on autopilot is thrown into chaos.

    In such a chaotic environment, is it surprising that a local base commander, or a member of his staff might make an incorrect statement? Is it surprising that, a lawsuit and the attendant media attention might raise the issue up the chain of command to the DoJ where an actual lawyer could speak authoritatively and correct the problem?

    That seems MUCH more probably than a secret Oval Office plot against the sacramental life of our Catholic soldiers because…well. just because it’s the sort of thing a very naughty person would do, and we all know how naughty Barrack Obama is, don’t we? Fortunately, the Snidely Whiplash cabal never counted on anybody noticing that they weren’t celebrating mass, when they normally celebrate the mass.