LA CROSSE (AP) – A Wisconsin-based group of atheists has asked the La Crosse police department to stop using chaplains, arguing that they violate the constitutional separation of church and state.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation said in a letter to police that although the chaplains are not paid, their use still constitutes an endorsement of religion, the La Crosse Tribune reported Friday.
The police department has used volunteer chaplains since 2001 to accompany officers to emergencies and when families are notified of deaths. The chaplains also listen in confidence to officers struggling with work or personal issues.
“Favoring religious adherents with free, on-the-job counseling and ignoring the needs of those of non-Christian faiths or no faith is discriminatory,” said the letter written by attorney Patrick Elliott. “It does no good to claim that chaplains can meet the needs of nonbelievers. If chaplains were adept at providing secular therapy they would be therapists, not chaplains.”
Police Chief Ron Tischer declined to comment on the letter until the city attorney reviews it.
The department’s head chaplain, the Rev. Mark Clements, said in an email that the U.S. Supreme Court has found volunteer chaplain programs acceptable.
“A careful look at our local chaplaincy program demonstrates that it is in line completely with the requirements of that case and is therefore constitutional,” Clements said.