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Jewish groups call on McDonnell to change 'Jesus' prayer policy

Anita Kumar

The Jewish Federation communities of the Commonwealth wrote a letter to Gov. Bob McDonnell asking him to reconsider his decision yesterday that lifted a ban on Virginia State Police troopers referring to Jesus Christ in public prayers.

"It leads us toward unnecessary religious clashes, demeans our Commonwealth's Jeffersonian principles and creates an unwelcoming environment for the Commonwealth's Jewish citizens and other religious minorities,'' six representatives of the groups wrote. "A final concern is the likelihood that revisiting this guidance would ultimately lead to litigation costly to our Commonwealth."

Read the full letter.

In September 2008, Col. W. Steven Flaherty, the state police superintendent, told chaplains to offer nondenominational prayers at department-sanctioned public events in response to a recent federal appeals court ruling that a Fredericksburg City Council member may not pray "in Jesus's name" during council meetings because the opening invocation is government speech. McDonnell directed Flaherty to change that policy yesterday.

McDonnell told reporters at the state Capitol this afternoon that he did not believe state officials should tell chaplains how to pray.

"It's a voluntary chaplain program and I think, in the interest of religious freedom, they should pray according to the dictates of their faith,'' he said. "I just didn't think it was right, the change that was made a couple years ago, to have an official state policy to tell chaplains of any faith how to pray, whether Muslim or Jew or Catholic or Christian. They should be able to pray according to the dictates of their conscience and the traditions of their faith. I think it was the right thing to do. It preserves the views of religious liberty that have been important in our country."

The state police chaplain program was created in 1979 to minister to department employees and grieving families and speak at graduations, funerals and other events and ceremonies. The change affects public events, such as the annual graduation and memorial service.

By Anita Kumar  |  April 29, 2010; 3:27 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar , General Assembly 2010 , House of Delegates , Robert F. McDonnell , State Senate , Timothy M. Kaine  
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If one follows the Governor's trend since his election it is apparent that his agenda is Christian focused or slanted to support and appease the Christian community; however, as Governor of the state and thus all of its resident/citizens Mr. McDonnell he is not doing this. Rather at the above shows with the actions of Police chaplains behaviors he is condoning only that the work [Jesus Christ] be spoken and has the Jewish Council wrote, he does not accept or view the existence of any other religions in the state as having meaning. The police chaplains should stick to non denominational prayers regardless of their own faith or belief.

Posted by: davidmswyahoocom | April 30, 2010 6:54 AM | Report abuse

This Gov. has an obvious Christian agenda. Welcome back to the 18th century Virginia.

Posted by: jckdoors | April 30, 2010 8:28 AM | Report abuse

A state chaplain program? Establishment clause violation.

Posted by: jody43jody | April 30, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse

Mcdonell is correct in saying we should not "have an official state policy to tell chaplains of any faith how to pray".
But then again, we should not have a state chaplain program either.

Posted by: MarilynManson | April 30, 2010 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Come on== We all know that if you are not a CHRISTIAN you will not be meeting GOD anyhow but are going to hell in a handbasket. The GUV is just trying to make sure those CHRISTIAN police are squarely covered. Who cares about the souls of those others?

Posted by: racerdoc | April 30, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Seems to me that Jesus Himself considered prayer to be a private event anyway (Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16). In fact, according to Matthew 6:6 He instructs His followers to “...go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." I'm just sayin'...

Posted by: cgardner1 | April 30, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I'm a devout Catholic. I would argue that I might prefer no state-led prayers whatsoever. I know there are folks who will scream their heads off by "kicking God out of Government." But the U.S. doesn't establish religion - and many Catholics seem to forget that we were banned from being Catholic for many years. To deny Christ in prayer for Christians is a huge deal. But for a Jew to pray to Jesus is a huge deal. What happens if we pray to Krishna or something? I would have to leave the room. There's a slippery slope from this legal point back to the days when Popes were martyred for refusing to worship Caesar. If we let the Government determine who's praying to whom, it's not always to our advantage.

I'll make a deal - don't force me deny Christ and I won't force you pray to him.

In the meantime - if a group of Christians, or Jews, or Buddhists (or anyone) wants to meet in a room to pray - don't deny them the ability to gather separately before an event and do so.

Posted by: mwcob | April 30, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

"...whether Muslim or Jew or Catholic or Christian..." Wow. So now even Catholics are excluded from the Governor's definition of Christian??!! It looks like Virginia is back on track to retake the lead as the laughingstock of the nation after temporarily ceding that honor last week to Arizona.

Posted by: postnobills | April 30, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse

why was my comment from yesterday deleted? it wasn't insensitive.

all i said was "if you were christian and walked into a local public meeting and the the chairman blessed the meeting to allah loudly in front of everyone, wouldn't you feel a little uncomfortable? well that's how minority religions when they go into US government buildings and get bombarded with Jesus prayers, what happened to the separation of church and state?"

Posted by: destewar | April 30, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, but I don't think the "police" should be offering prayers at any public event. I can see it in the case of a funeral where the family has requested a prayer, but beyond that, if I go to a graduation or some other public event, I don't want to hear a prayer, especially not by someone in a Government organization.

Posted by: akchild | April 30, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I'll go as far to say there should be no religious prayer at any government event. During prayer at public events a person who chooses not to particpate in the prayer simply does not participate. Why do the simplest things get so complicated when religion is involved. Its all BS anyway. Do you think that when our government reps sit down with some Maliks and tribal elders in Afghanistan for a shura that they ask or tell them they will not be participating in the Mullah led prayer just prior to starting the meeting? No, it doesn't happen, they sit there like good christians or whatever religion they practice and internally have a prayer time of their own.

Posted by: ioweioweoff2workigo | April 30, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Are there any Jewish chaplains in the State Police? If there were, would they want to be told how or how not to pray by the state?

Posted by: BruceFairfax | April 30, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Just more of the same form Gov(Egg-on-his face) McMuffin giving us the Pat Robertson/Jerry Fawell style of government.I am waiting for him to ban Tinky-Winky form any school that receives state money!!

Posted by: lsf07 | April 30, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Curious, where is that syncophant Eric Cantor in all this?

Posted by: cgardner1 | April 30, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

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