Six of 17 Virginia State Police Chaplains have resigned over a request they not reference Jesus Christ at public events.
Instead, they've been instructed by the Superintendent to offer non-denominational prayers, a decision made following a recent ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Chaplains are trained in ministry and counsel employees and their families. Troopers volunteer for the program which began nearly 30 years ago. The policy does not apply to private services like funerals.
The decision was internal, but does have the support of Governor Tim Kaine.
In a statement Wednesday, Grayson County Delegate Bill Carrico called on the Superintendent to abandon, "this attack on Christianity."
Delegate Morgan Griffith says, to "require those troopers to disregard their own faith while serving violates their First Amendment rights and prevents them from serving effectively as chaplains. These men had little choice but to resign."
STATEMENT BY COLONEL W. STEVEN FLAHERTY, VIRGINIA STATE POLICE SUPERINTENDENT, REGARDING VSP CHAPLAINCY PROGRAM
Over the years, the Virginia State Police has put forth great effort to achieve a diversified employee workforce among its sworn and civilian personnel to reflect the population of the Commonwealth and those we are committed to serve. As a result, the Department recognizes the importance as a state government agency to be inclusive and respectful of the varied ethnicities, cultures, and beliefs of our employees, their families, and citizens at-large.
The Chaplaincy Program was established in 1979 with the purpose of enabling "employees of the Department trained in ministry to provide employees and their families with spiritual counseling and guidance according to their needs and requests."* Our chaplains are also called upon to provide invocations and benedictions at Department-sanctioned events and other ceremonies.
Sworn members interested in participating in the Chaplaincy Program are vetted through a selection process for the voluntary assignment. When performing chaplain duties, the designated sworn State Police personnel are on-duty and compensated for their time spent in this capacity.
With the recent ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Turner vs. City of Fredericksburg, the Superintendent asked Department chaplains to offer non-denominational prayers at Department-sanctioned, public events (i.e. trooper graduations and the annual memorial service). The Colonel respects those chaplains whose convictions and beliefs are in conflict with his request, and is affording those Department chaplains the opportunity to decline participation at Department-sanctioned, public events. The Superintendent's request does not affect chaplains offering their services at private ceremonies (i.e. funerals) or when counseling individual employees and their families in their time of need.
The Superintendent continues to support and appreciates the dedication and efforts of our Department chaplains who provide such a valuable service to our employees and citizens.
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