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Updated: McDonnell lifts ban on State Police troopers referring to Jesus in public prayers

Anita Kumar

After months of lobbying by conservative activists, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has quietly reversed a policy banning Virginia State Police troopers from referring to Jesus Christ in public prayers.

McDonnell this afternoon sent Col. W. Steven Flaherty, the State Police superintendent, to tell the nine troopers who serve as chaplains about the change in policy.

"The Governor does not believe the state should tell chaplains of any faith how to pray,'' McDonnell spokesman Tucker Marin said. "Religious officials of all faiths should be allowed to pray according to the dictates of their own conscience, and in accordance with their faith traditions, while being respectful of the faith traditions of others.

"Prior to a change two years ago, the State Police permitted those participating in the volunteer State Police chaplain program, established in 1979, to pray in accordance with their own faith. The Governor believes that longstanding bipartisan policy is the appropriate one. This policy puts the State Police chaplains in the same position as those in the United States Military, Virginia National Guard and other law enforcement agencies."

In September 2008, Flaherty 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.

Then-Gov. Tim Kaine (D) was not involved in Flaherty's decision, but said at the time that he supported it. Legislators considered -- but killed -- bills to change the policy in 2009 and 2010.

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Donald Blake, president of Virginia Christian Alliance, said last week that he spoke to McDonnell about the change at a recent fundraiser at the governor's mansion and at a private meeting with McDonnell's chief of staff Martin Kent.

Other groups, including the Family Foundation of Virginia, also support a change and have been lobbying for one. The governor's office has received a handful of letters, faxes and emails in support of a reversal.

Earlier today, the ACLU of Virginia sent a letter to McDonnell urging him not to change the policy.

"The policy enacted by the state police is consistent with federal court rulings, and it serves the important purpose of preventing state police chaplains from violating the First Amendment," ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis said. "There is no reason for the Governor to bow to pressure from groups that are encouraging the police to break the law by delivering sectarian prayers at government events."

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.

"We are obviously thrilled that Governor McDonnell has fulfilled his campaign promise to restore the religious liberty rights of state police chaplains,'' said Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia. "His action reverses the discriminatory policy of the previous administration and ensures that chaplains can remain true to their faith at public events." 

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By Anita Kumar  |  April 28, 2010; 2:56 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar  | Tags: Bob McDonnell, Tim Kaine, Virginia State Police  
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Comments

McDonnell is a Regent University educated, Confederate apologist, evangelical, young-earth believing, creationist moron.

Posted by: kenk3 | April 28, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

So between the Attorney General of VA suing the Federal Government every 3 minutes and now fielding lawsuits over this ridiculous decision, I can understand Virginia's budget woes... The Commonwealth's treasury is being used up in legal fees. Great if you're a state attorney--hey, it's job security. Bad if you're the rest of Virginia.

Posted by: redgrifn | April 28, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Who's surprised in Jesusland?

Posted by: jckdoors | April 28, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Did anyone tell NORTHROP that they are moving to a gay-hating, slavery-denying, ONE GOD STATE??

Posted by: racerdoc | April 28, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Hello moderator, isn't calling someone a moron based on their religious beliefs personal attack? See the first comment by Kenk3. I just read your user guidelines and there does seem to be a problem. Or does it just apply when it's a Christian criticizing a Darwin-worshiping moron? Hmmm.

Posted by: Valkyrie66 | April 28, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

I thought liberals were supposed to be broad minded and tolerant? What happened?

Posted by: Masonman | April 28, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

Kumar loves these nothing stories. Unfortunately for Creigh Deeds, she loved them too much..

Posted by: wewintheylose | April 28, 2010 9:59 PM | Report abuse

One thing is for sure. He's not a mindless follower of political correctness.

I applaud his decision. This isn't something that should be regulated.

On the other hand, Chaplains should be as inclusive as possible -- but that inclusiveness should be at their discretion, not that of a state mandate.

Now, if only Kumar had something relevent to write about.

Posted by: postfan1 | April 29, 2010 2:37 AM | Report abuse

"I thought liberals were supposed to be broad minded and tolerant? What happened?

Posted by: Masonman"

At some point, one finally begins to realize that turning the other cheek only provides another opportunity for the narrow-mined and intolerant conservatives to gloat and criticize liberals for being wimps. Whenever a liberal dishes out what are the usual sort of attacks that are SOP for the conservatives, the conservatives then get upset and condemn the much-maligned liberals for not being "broad-minded and tolerant" punching bags for the conservatives. One does sense a certain hypocrisy here. Basically, conservatives are good at dishing it out, but cannot take it.

One of the major factors in the coarsening of public discourse has been the tendency of liberals to be board-minded and tolerant, which has allowed the conservatives to use verbal bullying, a disregard for truth when it gets in the way of ideology, and demagoguery to outshout and out-scream those who would disagree with whatever ideology du jour the conservative lemmings are following at that moment.

Just saying.

Posted by: E75Ranger | April 29, 2010 3:10 AM | Report abuse

I give it three weeks before Virginia follows Arizona's lead on immigration laws.

Where is my religious protection laws that allow me and my fellow scientologist congrsessmen to thank lord Xenu for my high theta levels ? The lobster people will return to earth and crush your puny Jesus.

Posted by: Baltimore137 | April 29, 2010 7:12 AM | Report abuse

Who is surprised that this puppet of the American Taliban, including the Jerry Falwell/Pat Robertson hate mongers, would find every chance he can to kick down the wall of separation between church and state?

He continues to waste our money, pick stupid fights on these issues, and show his true colors as a radical right wing theocrat.

I'm no Marxist but religion is, indeed, the opiate of the masses.

Posted by: fendertweed | April 29, 2010 8:15 AM | Report abuse

Who is surprised that this puppet of the American Taliban, including the Jerry Falwell/Pat Robertson hate mongers, would find every chance he can to kick down the wall of separation between church and state?

He continues to waste our money, pick stupid fights on these issues, and show his true colors as a radical right wing theocrat.

I'm no Marxist but religion is, indeed, the opiate of the masses.

Posted by: fendertweed | April 29, 2010 8:16 AM | Report abuse

What I want to knopw is why are the local governments and State Police having prayers at official events and meetings? A moment of silence is one thing (stupid, but totally non religious, so no constitutional issues there), but there should not be any religious anything associated with governmental agencies official activities. That includes events officially sponsored by the agencies.

Posted by: schnauzer21 | April 29, 2010 8:16 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: Valkyrie66 "Or does it just apply when it's a Christian criticizing a Darwin-worshiping moron?"
--------------------------
There are many religions that believe in evolution. And non-religious people don't "worship" anything. Try a little education. It really helps. From Webter's:
worship-noun:
1. reverent honor and homage paid to god or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.

Sacred being a religious concept doen't apply to non-religious people.

Posted by: schnauzer21 | April 29, 2010 8:23 AM | Report abuse

So I guess while growing up in Northern Virginia, and suburban Maryland, and saying the pledge of allegiance and the Lord’s Prayer every morning was all wrong?

Posted by: reesemichael | April 29, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Great!

Posted by: FloridaCitizen | April 29, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

"I give it three weeks before Virginia follows Arizona's lead on immigration laws.

Where is my religious protection laws that allow me and my fellow scientologist congrsessmen to thank lord Xenu for my high theta levels ? The lobster people will return to earth and crush your puny Jesus."

I feel really sorry for people like you, so full of hate for Christianity. The reality is that the God who created you also loves you enough to give you the free will to insult him. Trust me, Jesus is anything but puny. Hopefully you'll realize that one day and embrace him.

Posted by: linguist64 | April 29, 2010 9:24 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: Valkyrie66
Hello moderator, isn't calling someone a moron based on their religious beliefs personal attack? See the first comment by Kenk3.

------------------------------------------

When someone believes that the earth is 6000 years old, they're a moron, no matter what religion they belong to.

Posted by: kenk3 | April 29, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

There was a time when Virginian political leaders expressed other sentiments regarding religion and the state:
James Madison Memorial and Remonstrance.
“If "all men are by nature equally free and independent," [Virginia Declaration of Rights, art. 1] all men are to be considered as entering into Society on equal conditions; as relinquishing no more, and therefore retaining no less, one than another, of their natural rights. Above all are they to be considered as retaining an "equal title to the free exercise of Religion according to the dictates of Conscience." [Virginia Declaration of Rights, art. 16] Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offence against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to man, must an account of it be rendered. . . . It degrades from the equal rank of Citizens all those whose opinions in Religion do not bend to those of the Legislative authority. Distant as it may be in its present form from the Inquisition, it differs from it only in degree. The one is the first step, the other the last in the career of intolerance. The magnanimous sufferer under this cruel scourge in foreign Regions, must view the Bill as a Beacon on our Coast, warning him to seek some other haven, where liberty and philanthrophy in their due extent, may offer a more certain repose from his Troubles.”
Thomas Jefferson Act for Establishing Religious Freedom
“I. Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical:”

Posted by: bfiedleri | April 29, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

I object to God being referred to in public prayers. Plenty of Americans don't believe God exists so whose right is it to foist such Judeo-Christian principles on them in government-sponsored public functions?

Posted by: politbureau | April 30, 2010 5:54 AM | Report abuse

As a Jew who grew up in a non-Jewish area, I remember been forced in First Grade singing daily "Jesus loves Me" and it was a public school.... Public Prayer should be silent and personal.... A Prayer that is for one group should be in that group house of worship....This is not Iran!

Posted by: steve44122 | April 30, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Apparently there are clergy on the public payroll. Why is that?

Conservatives should be against it because it is a use of tax-payer money that should be decided by citizens, not the government. Liberals should be against it because it can be construed as the state working to promote whichever religions are represented by the chaplains.

Get rid of the chaplains, let state troopers get their religious guidance from church, synagogue or mosque if they wish, and we won't have to debate what chaplains are allowed to say.

Posted by: klinger1 | April 30, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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