Virginia Senate Panel Kills Police Prayer Bill

| Tue Feb. 24, 2009 12:50 PM EST

A Virginia state Senate committee voted Monday to kill a bill that would have allowed state police chaplains to recite prayers in the name of Jesus and other deities at official events.

The decision ended a dispute that erupted last September, when Virginia's police superintendent issued an order requiring chaplains to offer nondenominational prayers in public. Six chaplains resigned, and a handful of Virginia pols took up the issue, alleging the request was an attack on Christianity. At the time, House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith painted the chaplains as victims, saying the state was requiring the men to "disregard their own faith while serving," which infringed upon "their First Amendment rights," leaving them "little choice but to resign."

The situation is stark, but not in the way Griffith sees it: The very law that allows the chaplains the right to identify as Christians also bans the government from sponsoring any particular religion. The chaplains are sworn government personnel who appear in uniform and are paid when they deliver invocations and benedictions at public events. In that capacity, they are representatives of the state, not of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. As one chaplain put it, "When I don my police uniform, I am no longer representing my congregation as a Jewish clergy. Instead, I am representing the government, and therefore the public is my congregation."

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