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ACLU wants state police chaplains to know that they may deliver only nonsectarian prayers

Anita Kumar

The ACLU is asking State Police Superintendent Steven Flaherty to distribute pamphlets to all troopers who serve as chaplains to make it clear that they may deliver only nonsectarian prayers at department-sponsored events.

The move comes days after Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) directed Flaherty to reverse a two-year-old policy banning troopers from referring to Jesus Christ in public prayers.

"Our simple message to the superintendent and to police chaplains is to follow the law, regardless of whether or not a prayer policy is in place," ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis said. "Our pamphlet does more than just state the bottom line that official prayers at government events must be nonsectarian. It also explains to chaplains how the courts came to their decisions leading to the current state of the law."

Willis said that the ACLU is prepared to offer legal representation if impermissible prayers are offered by police chaplains, and a plaintiff steps forward.

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.

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  |  May 4, 2010; 3:18 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar , General Assembly 2010 , House of Delegates , Robert F. McDonnell , State Senate  
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Dear God,

Please make all the gullible, idiotic evangelical people go away forever. I never want to meet or be exposed to them.

Lord hear our prayer

Posted by: kenk3 | May 4, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Why have prayers at all? Do it at home before you leave for work. Go to church.

Posted by: jckdoors | May 4, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Do other states provide religious services for their troopers? Why do these people need special "chaplains" paid for by the state? Don't they have their own clergy if they need that? Why is the state paying for someone's relgion?

Posted by: hohandy1 | May 4, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

so now it comes down to Flaherty and if he will honor the wishes of his boss the governor, or he will hold his officers to the law of the land.

I'm hoping for the best and that Flaherty will put justice over politics and do what he knows is right. After all, he was smart enough to put that policy into place on his own and the directive from the governor does not trump federal law.

Posted by: MarilynManson | May 5, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

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