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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Chaplains Lose Bid to Block Navy’s Secret Votes

(CN) - A federal judge in Washington, D.C., refused to bar the U.S. Navy from using a secret voting system to promote chaplains that allegedly discriminated against nonliturgical Protestants.

A group of chaplains had accused the Navy of promoting nonliturgical Protestant chaplains less frequently than chaplains of other denominations.

Last November, the D.C. Circuit revived claims brought by Baptist, Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic Navy chaplains that the U.S. Navy selection boards discriminate against them based on their religion.

Their expert introduced statistics purportedly showing that liturgical Protestant and Catholic chaplains are promoted at significantly higher rates than nonliturgical Protestant chaplains, and that chaplains are 10 percent more likely to be recommended for promotion if a chaplain of their same denomination sits on the selection board.

Chaplains are recommended for promotion based on a selection board's secret vote of confidence. A selection board for chaplains includes two chaplains and five other officers.

The plaintiffs claimed that the Navy's secret voting system allows chaplains to essentially veto a candidate of a different religion by voting a zero level of confidence, a problem other branches of the Armed Services avoid by using public voting.

On remand, the chaplains sought a preliminary injunction against the Navy's allegedly discriminatory selection process.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler found that the chaplains "provided no evidence demonstrating that defendant intentionally discriminated against them."

"The statistics proffered by plaintiffs, without more, are not even minimally sufficient to demonstrate the need for the 'extraordinary and drastic remedy' of a preliminary injunction," Kessler wrote.

Even if the plaintiffs' expert had established that the Navy's selection boards clearly showed denominational bias, Kessler wrote, "plaintiffs still would not have met their burden of demonstrating probable success on the merits because they made no attempt to show that defendants' alleged pattern of past discrimination was motivated by discriminatory intent."

"Instead, plaintiffs repeatedly, and incorrectly, argue that they do not need to show intentional discrimination to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of their denominational preference theory, and that it is sufficient for them to put forward statistics that merely 'suggest a denominational preference.'"

Kessler added that a "mere 10 percent difference" in promotion rates "is certainly not 'stark,'" as defined by caselaw.

"Accordingly, plaintiffs' statistical evidence does not sufficiently show that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their denominational preference claim."

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