RICHMOND – Gov. Bob McDonnell has rescinded a Virginia State Police policy that requires the volunteer chaplains to deliver non-denominational prayers at department-sanctioned events.
McDonnell’s move reverses a 2008 directive issued by Virginia State Police Superintendent Steve Flaherty. Six of the 17 troopers who participated in the state police’s chaplaincy program resigned from their volunteer duties in protest of the policy. Despite complaints from some legislators and social conservatives, then- Gov. Tim Kaine defended Flaherty’s directive.
Flaherty had issued the directive in response to ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which determined that a Fredericksburg City Council member who is also a minister could not pray “in Jesus’ name” during an invocation that opens council meetings because the invocation is government speech. Flaherty’s directive applied only to department-sanctioned events such as trooper graduations and an annual memorial service. The policy does not apply to private ceremonies such as funerals or when counseling fellow employees and victim families.
Del. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson County, a retired state trooper, has been a vocal critic of Flaherty’s policy. Carrico has twice introduced bills aimed at reversing Flaherty’s directive, but both measures failed to get through the legislature.
Carrico commended McDonnell today and said, “I think he realized the need to rescind that to protect the constitutional rights of all those chaplains.”
Kent Willis, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said McDonnell should not change the policy.
“The policy enacted by the state police is consistent with federal court rulings, and it serves the important purpose of preventing state police chaplains from violating the First Amendment,” Willis said in a statement. “There is no reason for the governor to bow to pressure from groups that are encouraging the police to break the law by delivering sectarian prayers at government events.”
Courtesy of http://www.roanoke.com/news/breaking/wb/244946