Watchdog Group Sues Indiana over FSS Chaplaincy

New Federal Challenge

(Madison, Wis.) The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog group, has filed a faith-based challenge today in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Indiana, challenging the creation of a chaplaincy for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA). Co-plaintiffs with the national association include Craig Gosling, John Kiel, Sean O'Brien and Diana O'Brien, all Indiana Foundation members, residents and taxpayers.

The FSSA hired Pastor Michael L. Latham, a Baptist minister, in 2006, at a salary of $60,000 a year, paid with revenue from state taxpayers.

The job description states that Rev. Latham serves as the Chaplain for the Family and Social Services Administration and functions as a staff advisor on all problems involving spiritual needs of the employees. He also serves as the strategic director for policy, procedures and communication efforts on faith-based services. The position reports directly to the FSSA Chief of Staff."

The job description requires the chaplain to be an "ordained or licensed minister in good standing with a recognized religious denomination or group" and to have "expert knowledge of current standards and practices of religious and faith-based community service groups."

His duties include:

  • ministeringand counseling FSSA employees, contractors, etc., to connect with compassion with serving FSSA clients;

     

  • developing a statewide network of volunteer ministers to serve as liaisons on information "related to religious services and faith-basedcommunity involvement"

     

  • developing workshops to "train and educate FSSA staff on encouraging a faithfulenvironment in the workplace"

     

  • participating in outreach efforts to faith-basedorganizations

     

  • preparing and presenting faith-based services at statewide stakeholder meetings, and for legislators and service providers

It is the Foundation's understanding that there is no FSSA employee responsible for development of a statewide network of secular volunteers to counsel employees and contractors.

The Foundation's legal complaint maintains that program is "inherently religious."

"Paying a member of the clergy with taxpayer money to provide religious, faith-based counseling and to develop a statewide network of volunteer ministers to do the same has no secular purpose." The Foundation points out this "fosters an excessive entanglement with religion."

The Foundation also charges that the position violates Article VI of the federal constitution, which prohibits any religious test for public office, and a similar prohibition in the state constitution.

The lawsuit seeks to enjoin the state from funding, creating or maintaining the program. It asks the federal court to declare that the program violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as article I, sections 4, 6 and 23 of the Indiana Constitution.

The lawsuit is brought on behalf of the Foundation by attorneys for Godfrey & Kahn in Madison, Wis, working with William O. Harrington of Indiana. The 29-year-old national group has brought many lawsuits, most recently focusing with great success on federal challenges of the "faith-based initiative."

The case will be heard by U.S. District Judge David Hamilton, who ruled in 2005 against the practice of opening the Indiana Legislature with Christian-only prayers.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) that has been working since 1978 to keep church and state separate.

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

 

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FFRF is a member of Atheist Alliance International.