The New Jersey Catholic priest who faced down the federal government — and won

During a decade spent teaching and helping the needy in some of China’s most impoverished and oppressed regions, the New Jersey priest learned what it was like to live in a land without religious freedom.

It kindled a greater appreciation for his liberties at home.

Which is why Leonard, 51, bristled at the U.S. government when it told him he couldn’t hold services at a Georgia naval base during last month’s government shutdown. Leonard, a civilian contractor on the base since Oct. 1, wasn’t deemed an “essential” employee.

In a case that made headlines across the country, Leonard filed suit against the Department of Defense, contending the directive violated his freedom of speech and his right to religious expression.

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