Foundation Urges States To Drop Chaplains (April 1995)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has written the governors of all 50 states suggesting that they follow the lead of Colorado and delete state-paid chaplain posts from their budgets.

The Colorado Department of Corrections announced in March that it will do away with its chaplain corps, substituting volunteer ministers. The legislature began phasing out paid prison chaplains in 1993, eliminating seven of the 13 positions at that time. The six remaining positions will be phased out by July. Each chaplain earns about $40,000 a year plus benefits.

According to a spokesperson, many community groups have already offered to provide volunteer religious services in Colorado’s 21 prisons.

“That seems appropriate,” commented Anne Gaylor, Foundation president. “That is one of the reasons these groups have tax exemption, to promote their beliefs. How suitable to have proselytization on a volunteer basis.”

In a letter sent to each governor, the Foundation suggested phasing out all chaplains, in the interests of protecting the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, and in saving taxpayers’ funds.

“Federal and state constitutions provide that there may be no religious test for public office,” Gaylor wrote the governors. “Such a test obviously is imposed when someone must be of a particular religion and be required to hold particular religious beliefs and training to qualify for these state-paid posts.

“It is a unique opportunity to save needed tax dollars and to honor the constitutional separation of church and state.”

Gaylor estimated that in the state of Wisconsin alone, where the Foundation is based, the savings would be far more than a million dollars annually.

Although the Foundation had some difficulty in compiling exact information from state agencies on the amount clergy are costing Wisconsin taxpayers, Gaylor determined at minimum that there are 14 or 15 chaplains currently under the Department of Corrections, nine at Health and Social Services and two under the state Veterans Affairs department. There also appear to be two supervisory chaplain posts under Health and Social Services.

“In addition to urging your careful consideration of this overdue reform,” Gaylor wrote the governors, “we are also asking, in the public interest, for an accounting of the amount of money your state now spends on chaplains.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation