Get rid of your official chaplain, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is telling five Florida police and fire departments.
The state/church watchdog has been informed that Andy Jones acts as an official chaplain to the following governmental entities: the Oakland Police Department, the Ocoee Fire Department, the Windermere Police Department, the Winter Garden Fire Rescue Department and the Winter Garden Police Department. Jones has been the chaplain for the above-named departments for varying lengths of time, utilizing his position to spread his personal religious beliefs. While Jones contends that he doesn’t use his position to preach, he belies this claim by readily admitting that “the most important part” of his role is “introducing the Savior to people.”
Police chaplain programs are unconstitutional, FFRF emphasizes. Government chaplains may only exist as an accommodation of a public employee’s religious beliefs when the government makes it difficult or impossible to seek out private ministries. Police officers and crime victims do not need the government to fund their “spiritual support.”
“Our Constitution’s Establishment Clause — which protects Americans’ religious freedom by ensuring the continued separation of religion and government — dictates that the government cannot in any way show favoritism toward religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to the chiefs of these various departments. “As the Supreme Court has stated, ‘the First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’”
Paid or not, chaplains are sponsored by governmental departments, FFRF stresses. They are bound by the First Amendment like any other government employee. Government and religion do not mix.
These departments are also vulnerable to a discrimination lawsuit, FFRF reminds the chiefs. No doubt the chaplain intends, at least nominally, to assist people of all faiths. But these departments must serve all their citizens regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof. A full 37 percent of Americans are non-Christians, including the nearly 30 percent who now identify as religiously unaffiliated.
Community resources or licensed therapists who have certifications in counseling should be the first resort for vulnerable people, law enforcement and their families, not members of the clergy. Allowing Jones, or any religious leader who is only equipped to handle the needs of some employees and community members, to act as official department chaplain alienates those who do not believe in “the Savior.” There is no need for secular departments to be providing “spiritual support.”
FFRF is asking all these departments to end their chaplaincies. They should instead provide or refer to secular support services and leave decisions to seek religious support to individuals.
“An official chaplain is a governmental approval of a particular religion that excludes and alienates a huge sector of society,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Such positions are not only unnecessary but divisive.”
You can read the specific FFRF letters to the Oakland Police Department, the Ocoee Fire Department, the Windermere Police Department, the Winter Garden Fire Rescue Department and the Winter Garden Police Department at the respective links.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 2,000 members in Florida and a chapter in the state, the Central Florida Freethought Community. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.