The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed its tenth and newest federal faith-based challenge on May 2, challenging the creation of a chaplaincy for staff of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA). Filed in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Indiana, the lawsuit names as co-plaintiffs Craig Gosling, John Kiel, Sean O'Brien and Diana O'Brien, all Indiana Foundation members, residents and taxpayers.
The FSSA hired Pastor Michael L. Latham, a Baptist minister, in 2006, at a salary of $60,000 a year, to act as Chaplain for the Family and Social Services Administration." His job description includes attending to the "spiritual needs of the employees," directing faith-based services, recruiting and training volunteer ministers, working to "train and educate FSSA staff on encouraging a faithful environment in the workplace," and related duties.
The Foundation's legal complaint objects to the "inherently religious" purpose, the "excessive entanglement with religion," and the imposition of a religious test for public office, since the job required an ordination.
FSSA Secretary Mitch Roob, a defendant, took a jab at the Foundation, telling the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette: "Sometimes you know you're right by who opposes you."
Although this is believed to be the first such state position in the country, a state spokesman compared it to prison and VA chaplaincies.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president, responded: "State employees are hardly a captive audience to be compared with prisoners or hospital-bound vets. They are free to worship on their own time or seek their own counseling."
The case will be heard by U.S. District Judge David Hamilton, who ruled in 2005 against the practice of opening the Indiana Legislature with Christian-only prayers.
The lawsuit is brought on behalf of the Foundation by attorneys for Godfrey & Kahn in Madison, Wis, working with William O. Harrington of Indiana. The 29-year-old national group has brought many lawsuits, most recently focusing on federal challenges of the "faith-based initiative."
"Our special thanks to the individual Indiana members who agreed to be parties to the lawsuit," said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president, "and without whom we could not challenge this troubling and precedent-setting violation."