On June 23, the Navy issued an order that banned sailors from attending off-base indoor religious services in order to effectively combat COVID-19. We must take into account that, prior to this announcement, the Navy had suspended most, if not all, on-base indoor religious services. Any sailor seeking spiritual nourishment through off-base indoor religious services would be “subject to adverse administrative and/or disciplinary action.”

Chaplain Col. Ron Crews, U.S. Army (ret.), executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, responded, “We are stunned that the Navy would issue this unlawful order.” Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese of Military Services released a press statement on July 4: “Upon receiving this information I immediately contacted the Navy Chief of Chaplains’ Office. They have been unable to offer any relief from these provisions. My attempt to contact the Chief of Naval Operations has not even been acknowledged.” The Navy directive, as originally designed, stands.

Given that society views all Christian denominations as co-equal and, to a greater extent, a mere hobby, and are able to continue its mission through remote means, one understands why the Navy opted to prohibit its sailors from attending off-base indoor religious services. If the public health goal is to minimize the spread of COVID-19 at all costs, then the decision to bar such religious services and substitute livestreamed online services makes logical sense. Indoor religious services are just another example of a large community gathering and, thus, ought to be included in the list of other prohibited activities by the Navy — dining in at restaurants, visiting your local barbershop, relaxing on a public beach, and shopping at non-essential commercial retail establishments.

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