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Lauryn Seering

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A Tennessee police department has been told by Freedom from Religion Foundation that it needs to discontinue its new "Adopt a Cop" program because of its religious nature.

The Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) program entails praying on a daily basis for the officer for his/her safety, emotional strength, health, wisdom, financial stability and strength of character.

FFRF, a national state/church watchdog, has nearly 23,000 members, including about 300 in Tennessee. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter of complaint on Tuesday to JCPD Chief Mark Sirois.

"It is not appropriate for the JCPD to do so through a religious program that is not actually providing any protection for your officers, but only wishing for it in the form of Christian prayers," Seidel writes in the letter. "JCPD should focus on programs that actually make a difference in police officer's lives rather than expending any department resources for ineffectual Christian programming."

The Johnson City "Adopt a Cop" program is based off a national program started in California by the International Transformation Network, which "want(s) to see the presence and power of God meet the felt needs and the systemic challenges of our communities."

In Johnson City, the program is organized by Becky Haas, director of the Targeted Community Crime Reduction Project and JCPD Chaplain Eileen Zoellner.

"JCPD's chaplaincy program is also problematic," Seidel writes. "The employment of chaplains, even if volunteer, demonstrates government endorsement of religion, which is a violation of both the federal and Tennessee constitutions."

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