For Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the fight over whether military priests should still be able to minister on military bases during the government shutdown is personal.
The Republican lawmaker is a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.
Responding to fears that chaplains cannot minister during the shutdown on military bases, the House of Representatives on Saturday passed a near unanimous resolution introduced by Collins that urges Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to permit military chaplains to “perform religious services and ministry” during the shutdown. The Democratic-controlled Senate has yet to take up the resolution.
Collins’ bill comes as the general counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services USA has warned that — under current law — some military priests under contract could even face arrest if they celebrate Mass or practice their faith on military bases during the shutdown.
The Daily Caller spoke to Collins by phone about the bill on Tuesday. Here is a lightly-edited transcript of that conversation:
TheDC: You sponsored the bill calling on the Defense secretary to allow all military chaplains to minister during the shutdown. What’s the latest on this?
Collins: It’s in the Senate as this point. And I call upon the Senate to take this up. This is something that to me — as I said on the floor the other day — was just disheartening from my perspective. We actually had to come to the floor of the House, we had to bring a concurrent resolution to encourage the administration to defend constitutional religious liberties and not deem that non-essential. That was just amazing to me.
TheDC: Harry Reid, like you said, hasn’t brought this up for a vote in the Senate. What’s your message to him?
Collins: My message is to quit playing games with the American people and quit playing games with the Constitution. This is an issue that people understand. Over the past weekend and over the past week, people have been affected by this. A couple at Langley who were being counseled were not able to get married. This is an issue that needs to be addressed. I think I’d just ask him, ‘What is it about religious freedom that you’re against, Mr. Reid?’
TheDC: The secretary of Defense announced over the weekend that most Department of Defense civilians placed on furlough are going back to work. Any indication if chaplains were included?
Collins: It’s a good question. These would be contract chaplains that are brought in for specific purposes for specific reasons. I’m not sure if his wording on that would actually bring them back in or not. Remember, these are not the active duty military chaplains that are on the base all the time.
TheDC: I’ve read your bill — and I’m curious about the language — because it “urges” the secretary of Defense to allow religious services on military bases that are usually available. Is “urging” the strongest language you could use for this?
Collins: Yeah, it’s the strongest you can use under a concurrent resolution. You can’t legally direct that in a concurrent resolution. That was the wording that was deemed best appropriate.
TheDC: The only Democrat to vote against the bill, Rep. Bill Enyart of Illinois, called the legislation “an absolutely phony, feel-good bill.” What do you say to that?
Collins: I’m just going to assume Rep. Enyart didn’t understand the bill. Because if he truly means that then that’s a really disturbing point of view. If he really understood what we were trying to do, he would realize the contract chaplains are a valuable part of our military.