The birthplace for religious freedom in America is quickly becoming its graveyard. News stories broke across Virginia yesterday concerning a case The Family Foundation became involved with last week (read Norfolk Virginian-Pilot article, here). The superintendent of the Virginia State Police, a political appointee of Governor Tim Kaine, recently ordered State Police chaplains to cease praying "in Christ's name" (read Richmond Times-Dispatch article, here). Apparently the superintendent did this proactively, without any complaints from anyone "offended" that a chaplain actually had prayed to God. Six of the chaplains have had the courage to resign their positions over this order.
Last week we were informed of this new policy and were put in contact with one of the chaplains involved. We then connected him with Alliance Defense Fund, one of the leading religious liberty legal advocate groups in the nation. It currently is reviewing the facts of the case to determine the proper action. Wednesday, House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith (R-8, Salem) and Delegate Bill Carrico (R-5, Independence) slammed Governor Kaine and the state police superintendent for this new policy in a press release, bringing this situation to light (read Washington Times article, here).
The superintendent says he is basing his policy change on a recent U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision involving prayer at government meetings, specifically a case where a pastor in the Fredericksburg area was ordered to stop praying "in Jesus name" at city council meetings. The court concluded that allowing someone to publicly pray according to his beliefs at a government meeting was an "establishment of religion" because the prayer was "government speech."
Once again the religious liberty and free speech rights of Christians have been banished from the public square (read Roanoke Times article, here). Arguing that allowing someone to offer a sectarian prayer is an "endorsement of religion" is absurd. It turns the establishment clause of the First Amendment against the free exercise clause as if the two are incompatible. Just the idea that there is such a thing as "government speech" violates the fundamental idea of America. Our Founding Fathers must be rolling in their graves.
This situation again highlights the importance of who will sit on the courts deciding these cases. Ultimately, it is likely that this will all be resolved by the United States Supreme Court. Because at least two justices on that court likely are to retire during the term of the next president, the judicial philosophy the candidates for president hold is a critical decision point as we determine who should receive our vote.
We will continue to work with the troopers involved in this case, the Alliance Defense Fund, and members of the General Assembly to seek an outcome where religious liberty once again stands as a pillar of strength in our commonwealth.