Indiana Officially Drops Chaplain Post

A federal lawsuit filed last spring by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, challenging an unprecedented chaplain post to minister to employees of a state department, was dismissed in late September after the State of Indiana formally ended the position.

Rev. Michael Latham was hired last year to encourage a faithful environment in the workplace,” the Foundation noted in its complaint. The post involved purely religious activities. Advertised as the first such public position in the country, the chaplaincy included a goal of forging a network of volunteer chaplain counselors for the Family and Social Services Administration offices.

In August, following a lot of bad press, the FSSA announced that it would discontinue the program, but the case was delayed due to a bizarre wrinkle. The minister was placed on disability pay (60% of his $60,000 salary), leaving the Foundation lawsuit up in the air.

The Foundation received word from the State of Indiana that Latham’s disability payments were terminated on Sept. 23. The Foundation then agreed to dismiss the lawsuit.

Two exposs by Indianapolis Star reporter Robert King revealed that in nearly 18 months, after $120,000 of tax money spent, the program had never got off the ground. Latham was the state’s highest-paid chaplain, although he lacked the requisite college degree and other credentials required of state hospital chaplains paid half his salary. Latham kept his fulltime ministry in Fort Wayne, and did not work out of a state office in Indianapolis.

Latham had been a high-profile supporter of the Republican candidacy of Mitch Daniels, now governor. Latham gave a benediction at one of Daniels’ inaugural events.

In addition to the Foundation’s four Indiana state taxpayer-plaintiffs, Craig Gosling, John Kiel, Sean O’Brien and Diana O’Brien, the Foundation in July had also added state employee Jonathan Kraeszig, a FSSA program director. Kraeszig had been offended by the views promulgated at an office workshop engineered by Latham.

“We thank our Indiana members who joined the Foundation as plaintiffs and Mr. Kraeszig, for making it possible to take and win this legal challenge,” said Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-presidents.

“This is a significant victory for the separation between religion and government that has national ramifications.” The lawsuit was handled by attorney James Friedman and colleagues.

Freedom From Religion Foundation