A Catholic priest and a religious military veteran are suing the Department of Defense over the federal government shutdown, BLT reports. According to the complaint, they allege that the federal government has violated their First Amendment rights by preventing the priest from performing, and the veteran from receiving, religious services at military facilities due to the federal shutdown. The priest claims he would provide these services free of charge during the shutdown, but that such conduct is barred by regulations implementing the Anti-Deficiency Act.
I am somewhat skeptical of the underlying constitutional claim, though the associated Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) claim may have more strength. Barring the use of federal facilities for religious purposes while they are shut down would not seem to violate the Free Exercise clause under current doctrine. If a facility is shut down, it’s shut down. There is no First Amendment exception, for speech or religion (contrary to the claims of the National Park Service). RFRA, however, imposes a greater burden on the federal government to accommodate religious practice and thus could preclude federal regulations from barring a priest from continuing to minister to soldiers and veterans at military facilities during a shutdown.