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House supports chaplain prayers
Kaine likely to veto chaplain prayer measure

Date published: 2/5/2009


--The House of Delegates yesterday approved a bill to let state police chaplains pray to Jesus Christ, after a spirited debate over whether freedom of religion means the freedom of the person praying or of those listening.

But Gov. Tim Kaine indicated he's likely to veto the bill if it makes it to his desk.

A Senate committee also postponed until Monday action on a Senate bill regarding public prayer.

The issue arose after a federal appeals court upheld a Fredericksburg City Council ban on referring to Jesus Christ in public prayers that open council meetings. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the case.

As a result of the court's ruling, Virginia State Police Col. Steven Flaherty had directed police chaplains--who are troopers who volunteer chaplain services-- to avoid denominational prayers at public events, such as trooper graduations.

Six chaplains resigned in protest, igniting a controversy that had a group of ministers criticizing Gov. Kaine and Flaherty for the directive, saying it violated the chaplains' right to pray according to their own conscience.

Del. Charles Carrico, R-Greyson, introduced a bill that says the state police may operate a volunteer chaplain program but may not regulate how those chaplains express religious beliefs.

For official state ceremonies, Carrico said, the police must put a disclaimer on the printed program saying the prayer reflects the views of the chaplain, not those of the police department.

Carrico said he asked the attorney general if the bill was constitutional and was told it was because it didn't favor any one faith over another.

Carrico and other supporters say the bill protects the First Amendment freedom of police chaplains to pray according to their own religion.

Opponents say requiring nondenominational prayers at public events protects freedom of religion for other attendees at such events.

Del. David Englin, D-Alexandria, said he believes Carrico's bill is unconstitutional.

He said he would like to see the Virginia State Police adopt a chaplaincy program similar to the military's, which Englin--who grew up on military bases and who is Jewish--said always made him feel comfortable and welcomed. He said the military chaplaincy program guidelines specifically direct chaplains to avoid reflecting a specific religion.

Del. David Poisson, D-Loudoun, also spoke against the bill, saying it violated the ecumenical spirit of public prayers.

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