Foundation: Abolish Chaplaincies Now (December 1994)

In the wake of an announcement by the Rev. Richard Halverson, official chaplain of the U.S. Senate, that he is resigning, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking Congress to “seize the opportunity” to abolish the tax-paid position.

Currently $196,000 annually is reserved for the Senate chaplain’s office, with a total of $286,000 paid every year for the two houses of Congress to open with prayers. Last year the Senate was in session only 156 days, with Halverson responsible only for brief opening prayers. In addition, Halverson routinely appointed guest chaplains when he was on the road collecting honoraria.

“Not only would taxpayers’ money be saved that could be applied for human services, or even the deficit,” wrote Anne Gaylor, Foundation president, “but the constitutional principle of separation of church and state would be honored by dropping the position.”

Gaylor sent her suggestion to Senator Robert Dole, who will be the new Senate Majority Leader.

“If the Republicans are serious about saving taxpayers’ money, here is a wonderful, painless opportunity to do it.”

Gaylor noted that founding father James Madison called the establishment of a chaplaincy a “palpable violation” of the First Amendment.

“From a practical point of view, nothing fails like prayer,” Gaylor said. “Think about it. Unanswered prayers would fill the universe. But the real issue here is honor and respect for state/church separation.”

Halverson had come under scrutiny recently for a prayer supporting O.J. Simpson, as well as for prayers deemed as partisan or as attempts to influence legislation.

Reporter Frank Greve for Knight-Ridder Newspapers reported last spring that Halverson often takes Mondays and Fridays off. “You could find a cushier hundred-thousand-dollar job in Washington, but you’d have to look hard,” Greve concluded.

Freedom From Religion Foundation