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A group of Protestant chaplains suing the Navy over alleged religious discrimination can represent hundreds of current and former chaplains who may have been harmed, a court has ruled. While it was based on legal procedure and not the merits of the discrimination claims, the ruling is a boost to a pair of suits accusing the Navy of favoring certain Christian denominations over others. The lawsuits claim that the Navy Chaplain Corps favors chaplains who are Roman Catholic or from mainline Protestant denominations over those from evangelical Protestant faiths. Some evangelical Navy chaplains say they have been passed over for promotions, harassed by their supervisors or forced out of the military. Monday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina in Washington, D.C., means that lawyers for the Protestant chaplains suing the Navy can represent a class of all similar Protestant chaplains. The Navy had argued against making the lawsuits a class action — a move which could lead to a broader and costlier settlement or judgment. Arthur A. Schulcz, one of the chaplains’ lawyers, said Tuesday that between 700 and 1,000 current and former chaplains could be covered by the lawsuit. “If you’re the Navy, this has the makings of a rather serious issue,” Schulcz said. “I have (as clients) a number of people who have been passed over, a number of people who have been separated (from military service).” Navy spokeswoman Sharon Anderson said Tuesday it would be inappropriate for the service to comment on a pending lawsuit. The Navy has about 850 chaplains to provide religious services to members of both the Navy and the Marine Corps. The Navy divides its Christian chaplains into three categories: Roman Catholics, liturgical Protestants and non-liturgical Protestants. Liturgical Protestant denominations are those such as Presbyterian and Lutheran, which follow a set mode of worship, or liturgy. Non-liturgical denominations, such as Baptists and other Pentecostals, do not follow a set liturgy. The chaplains suing the Navy say the service improperly sets aside a third of its chaplain slots for each category, although many more sailors identify themselves as members of non-liturgical faiths. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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