Two third-year law students filed suit Friday against the U.S. Army, charging that the use of taxpayers' money to pay chaplains in the armed forces is unconstitutional.
Allen M. Wieder and Joel Katcoff said yesterday they filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., because they believe that paying chaplains to lead servicemen in prayer is a form of governmental support of religious activity, and therefore unconstitutional. "The state should not take money from its citizens to support religion," Katcoff said.
Both Katcoff and Wieder said that, constitutionally, servicemen should be provided with clergy and the opportunity to worship, but that the clergy should be paid from the private sector and not by the government.
"Religion in the armed services should be run in a similar manner to the way it is run in the civilian community," Katcoff said.
The More the Merrier
Civilian support of chaplains would encourage greater numbers of clergy to serve the military and would foster greater diversity in available clerical help for servicemen, Katcoff said.
Neither the U.S. District Attorney in New York nor the Chief of Chaplains of the Army could be reached for comment on the suit.
The two students also named the Department of Defense and Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander Jr. in the suit.
Speak No Evil
The two, who began research on the suit early last summer, framed and filed the complaint without the aid of a lawyer. "We asked some people for advice, but it was basically our own case," Wieder said.
"They will lose, but they'll get some good experience," James Q. Wilson, Shattuck Professor of Government, said yesterday.
Wilson said the chaplaincy in the armed services "may or may not be good policy" but added there is nothing in the constitution to prohibit its existence.
"I think the law is in our favor," Katcoff said. "If we lose it will be for political reasons, because the chaplaincy has been around for so long."
"In the history of church and state in America, it has never been the premise that the intent of the constitution is to remove the state entirely from any interest in or support of religious life," Rev. Peter T. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals, said yesterday.
Gomes said the traditional existence of a chaplain for Congress, the use of religious terminology in the swearing in of presidents, and the references to deity on U.S. coinage are all examples of "the intimacy of government" with religion.
No court has ever reached a decision on this issue, Katcoff said. U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan supported the constitutionality of the chaplaincy in a related decision, while Justice William O. Douglas is "on the record as saying the chaplaincy is unconstitutional he added.
A similar case was thrown out of court in the '20s on technical grounds, Katcoff said. "It never got to the Suprem Court," he added.
Katcoff and Wieder plan to pursue the case as far into the court system as they can. "We don't intend to be stopped by monetary problems," Wieder said, adding the two would finance the suit themselves