FFRF sues over Wisconsin’s DOJ chaplaincy

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed suit on November 13, 2018, against Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, challenging a statewide police chaplaincy program.

Schimel announced the chaplaincy program in mid-October 2018 while campaigning. The program became effective on Oct. 4, 2018, but had been in the works for at least a year prior to that.

Schimel claims that the chaplaincy program is a “critical component” of the DOJ, and has urged other state agencies to contact the DOJ staff to start their own chaplaincy programs. Six all-white men from Christian faiths, many conservative, have been formally appointed DOJ chaplains. Although unpaid, the six agency chaplains are under the direction of a paid DOJ chaplaincy program coordinator and have received training and reimbursement at taxpayer expense. They’re issued DOJ identification and building access cards and are not prohibited from soliciting donations or proselytizing employees. Their explicit duties include providing consultation and spiritual guidance to DOJ employees and their families, and the chaplaincies are integrated into DOJ programs, including new employee classes and orientation.

“The DOJ Chaplaincy Program does not include, and affirmatively excludes, secular mental health professionals,” FFRF’s legal complaint asserts. The complaint notes that the program sets up a religious test as a condition for employment: Chaplains must be ordained or licensed clergy in good standing of a faith group. Yet they aren’t required to be professional mental health providers, or be licensed or otherwise regulated by the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services, like other mental health professionals.

FFRF is asking the circuit court to declare the program a violation of Wisconsin State Constitution, Article 1, Section 18, and of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and to enjoin the DOJ from providing chaplaincy services.

The plaintiffs are FFRF, a Wisconsin-based national group of 32,000 members on behalf of its 1,400 Wisconsin members, and Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, FFRF’s co-presidents, in their capacity as state taxpayers and as FFRF lifetime members.

The case has been filed in the courtroom of Dane County Circuit Court Judge Josann Reynolds. Case No. is 2018cv3022.

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

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FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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