Military Does Not Have To Compensate Retiree For Religious Work, Says Court

A federal appeals court has ruled that a military retiree has no constitutional right to be compensated by the federal government for work he did as a youth pastor, in a case an Amer­icans United attorney helped argue.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Dec. 18 that the rights of Linden Bowman, a former sergeant in the Air Force, were not violated when military officials ruled his religious work was ineligible for the Department of Defense’s Community Service Program.

Under the program, members of the military who retire with 15 to 20 years of service can earn higher retirement pay by engaging in public service work with community groups. A federal regulation specifically states that no credit will be given for religiously based work.

“We’re pleased that the court rejected Bowman’s efforts to force the government to subsidize religious activities,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, AU’s senior litigation counsel. “Even the outgoing administration did not support the subsidy he sought.”

After Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief on the side of the government, the court allowed Luch­enitser to take part in the oral argument of the case. He appeared before the court on Oct. 24 in Cin­cinnati, arguing that it is appropriate for the government to decline to support religious activities.

Bowman, who worked as a youth pastor at a church in Geneva, Ohio, did not dispute that his duties were religious in nature and included activities such as worship and proselytization. Rather, he asserted that the regulation barring religious work was discriminatory and burdened his religious freedom rights. He was represented by the Rutherford Institute, a Virginia legal organization.

A federal court disagreed and dismissed the case. The appeals court ruling in Bowman v. United States up­holds that decision.

“Bowman has not shown that his fundamental right to the free exercise of his religion has been violated,” observed the court. “He was free to work as a youth minister but could not have that work count toward his military retirement.”

Americans United’s friend-of-the-court brief was drafted pro bono by attorney George Langendorf of the international law firm Arnold & Porter LLP, in consultation with Arnold & Porter attorney Richard Rosen, Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and Luchenitser.