FFRF objects to NJ religious counseling program

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is objecting to a proposed program in New Jersey where offending juveniles will receive church counseling.

The Trenton Police Department intends to take juveniles who have broken the curfew law to churches for “counseling,” according to media reports.

The city of Trenton’s official code makes no mention of churches and in no way authorizes the proposed practice. The program the Trenton Police Department intends to install represents a distressing departure from city ordinances and the U.S. Constitution.

“This proposal is an egregious violation of the First Amendment, since it is a bedrock principle of constitutional law that the state cannot coerce citizens to participate in religious practices,” FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel writes to Trenton Police Director Ernest Parrey Jr. “It is not surprising that Trenton’s city code does not allow for transporting juvenile offenders to churches for counseling because as a government agency providing youth counseling, the Trenton Police Department has a duty to remain neutral towards religion.” 

The plan also shows a clear and unconstitutional favoritism for religion over nonreligion. About 35 percent of millennials—those born after 1981, i.e., the juveniles the proposed program will affect—are nonreligious. In effect, the program will force a very large number of nonreligious citizens to endure the “counseling” of a religious practitioner from a religion they do not observe.

“It’s baffling that a secular police department should try to implement such an idea,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “Trenton police should realize that theological counseling is not acceptable.”

The proposal cannot be legally implemented. The Trenton Police Department should instead aim to provide secular support services and should inform FFRF of the steps it will be taking to change course.

FFRF is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to the constitutional separation of state and church, with 24,000 members across the country, including more than 450 in New Jersey.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend