FFRF demands Birmingham (Ala.) Police Department end coercive staff prayer

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging the Birmingham Police Department to stop its unconstitutional practice of holding department-funded coercive religious ceremonies.

Multiple concerned Birmingham residents, including a department employee, have informed the state/church watchdog that the department regularly invites a pastor from the local Baptist church to proselytize, read bible passages and lead devotionals and prayers during mandatory staff roll calls. FFRF’s main complainant reported that when the pastor is not there another officer leads a Christian prayer for all employees in attendance. The complainant reported feeling uncomfortable being required to participate in religious worship as part of their job.

The department has bragged about this department-sponsored religious coercion on official social media pages:
We’re starting Wednesday with Roll Call at West Precinct. Each day our officers come together to receive their assignments for duty and to pray for a safe shift before they go out and serve Birmingham. Our officers enjoy this time with one another.

“We ask that the Birmingham Police Department refrain from including religious worship, bible readings, devotionals or prayer at future staff meetings in order to respect the First Amendment rights of all Department employees,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Birmingham Police Chief Scott Thurmond.

The First Amendment’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 or coerce belief or participation in religion. Department employees are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time, in their own way. However, religious worship cannot be imposed on all employees. This coercive practice excludes and alienates those employees who are among the nearly 30 percent of adult Americans who are religiously unaffiliated, as well as the additional 6 percent of Americans adhering to non-Christian faiths.

In order to respect the First Amendment, the department must immediately end this unconstitutional practice, FFRF is insisting.

“An open profession of Christianity or any religion from an entity sworn to serve and protect is unconstitutional and divisive,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The Birmingham Police Department serves all of the town residents, not just Christians.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 40,000 members across the country, including hundreds of members in Alabama. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend