state police chaplains

Family Foundation Files Brief In Religious Liberty Case

Recently, The Family Foundation, in conjunction with several other state family policy councils, filed an amicus brief in the religious liberty case of Joyner v. Forsyth County. The details of this case date back to March of 2007 when the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit against North Carolina's Forsyth County Board of Supervisors, in which it stated:

[the Board] does not have a policy which discourages or prohibits those whom [the Board] has invited to deliver prayers from including references to Jesus Christ, or any other sectarian deity, as part of their prayers.

This is yet another blatant, undisguised attack on the free exercise of Christian faith. But our friends at the Alliance Defense Fund are defending the Board — and our liberty — in this case.

Joyner v. Forsyth County was characterized by legal gymnastics for nearly three years until January when the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina sided with the ACLU. Shortly after, the Board appealed the ruling and the case now in headed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, based in Richmond. Since Virginia also resides in the Fourth Circuit, the decision made in this case could profoundly impact religious liberty in Virginia. Therefore, The Family Foundation felt it imperative to stand up for our freedoms by jointly filing an amicus brief.

As ADF Senior Legal Counsel Mike Johnson aptly points out:

An invocation according to the dictates of the giver’s conscience is not an establishment of religion. If it was, you’d have to argue that the drafters of the U.S. Constitution were violating the Constitution in the prayers and invocations that they themselves offered.

(Mike testified in committee during the 2009 General Assembly, at our request, on behalf of a bill to allow state police chaplains the religious liberty rights to pray in Jesus' name.)

Several Virginia legislators also signed on to an amicus brief in support of religious liberty in Joyner v. Forsyth County, including Delegtes Kathy Byron (R-22, Lynchburg), Bill Carrico (R-5, Galax), Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas) and Brenda Pogge (R-96, Yorktown); and Senators Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg) and Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-27, Winchester). Unfortunately, due to uncontrollable circumstances, the five-hour window for legislators to sign on precluded many others who expressed a desire to join the brief. Those who could not, given the short deadline, include Delegates Tag Greason (R-32, Potomac Falls) and Ed Scott (R-30, Culpeper), and Senator Steve Newman (R-23, Forest). (There may be an opportunity for to sign on to an amended brief, but if your legislators are not listed here, it may simply be because they weren't able to respond in the short window.

McDonnell's First 100 Days: The View From The Family Foundation

The Washington Post ran a recent Sunday edition story that suggested a chasm has developed between Governor Bob McDonnell and social conservatives. According to the article, some have become disheartened and feel the governor has let them down while others are more willing to be patient and give the governor time. So, what does The Family Foundation think of the governor's first 100 plus days? Understanding the context of events is always key to accurate analysis. So let’s remember that for the past eight years social conservatives in Virginia have been isolated from the governor's office. Both previous governors were at times openly hostile to traditional values issues. Governor Mark Warner gave $25,000 to the Commonwealth Coalition, the organization that opposed the Marriage Amendment, and regularly opposed our agenda (hear in his own words what he thinks of Christian conservatives). Governor Tim Kaine openly campaigned against the Marriage Amendment and also opposed much of our agenda (though he did work with us on several marriage initiatives). Add to that the fact that in November 2008 Virginians voted for Barack Obama for president, and political pundits (as usual) proclaimed social conservatism dead. Any candidate who wanted to win had to disavow  caring about the unborn and marriage and stick to one thing and one thing only — money (well, the economy).

Enter Bob McDonnell. A long time friend of social conservatives and leader on many of our issues, values voters were energized by a candidate they could call "one of us." While campaigning, candidate McDonnell steered clear of social issues unless asked, focusing on exactly what the "experts" said he had to focus on — the economy. Some social conservatives expressed frustration that McDonnell wasn't more vocal on abortion and other social conservative causes, but many understood that the political climate was such that the majority of voters were most concerned about their personal well-being with an economy in recession and a federal government spending us into oblivion.

On Election Day, social conservatives voted for McDonnell in droves. Exit polling showed that nearly half of McDonnell's voters were self-identified evangelicals. Clearly, they believed that Bob McDonnell was going to be their guy in the Governor's Mansion. As with any constituency, those votes did not come without expectations, and they were high expectations at that.

Once sworn in, he went to work on his campaign promise to bring Virginians a balanced budget without higher taxes, and job development. Most agree that the governor has largely fulfilled those promises — though some are concerned with increased fees in the budget. During his administration's first General Assembly session the governor was relatively quiet on social issues, though his administration did vocally support abortion center safety legislation in the Senate Education and Health Committee. He also renewed an executive order concerning non-discrimination in state hiring practices, but did not include "sexual orientation" as had been done by the two previous governors (though Governor Warner did it in the last month of his administration).

Of course, things didn't go perfectly for the new administration. Social conservatives were particularly disappointed that he chose to issue an "executive directive" concerning hiring practices that included "sexual orientation," and we explained those concerns to him both publically and privately. He did, however, sign the Health Care Freedom Act, the first legislation of its kind in the nation that hopefully will protect Virginians from being forced by the federal government to purchase health insurance. He also protected Virginians from being forced to pay for low-income elective abortions (a major pro-life victory) and ensured that Planned Parenthood can't use the money they make off of their new license plate to perform abortions.

Now, we are just passed the first four months of his four-year term, and some conservatives are expressing disappointment, even outrage, with the governor's actions thus far. Interestingly, I was interviewed for the Post article long before its publication date, and at the time, we were encouraging the governor's office to take a more pro-active approach on social conservative issues. In particular, the discussion surrounded the pro-life budget amendments the governor chose not to introduce — defunding Planned Parenthood and failed embryonic stem cell research. On that issue I said to the Post:

We want him to do more, and we will continue to ask him.

I stand by those words. Once something is in the budget it is difficult to remove it. While we trust that Planned Parenthood will not receive any taxpayer money during this administration, we continue to believe that adding such language to the state budget will protect taxpayers in future years.

But remember the context of my Post interview:

In between my interview with the Post and the article's publication — several days — the governor fulfilled an extremely important campaign promise and reversed the Kaine administration's discriminatory prohibition on prayers offered by state police chaplains. In a press release I said we were "thrilled" with the governor's action, and we are. This was an important and courageous action and Virginians are better off for it. We also asked you to contact Governor McDonnell and thank him as well.

So, how is the governor doing? (Honestly, I think social conservatives need to take a deep breath, and remember that there are still three years and seven months left in this administration. We have to remember the victories he has delivered, while knowing that there is still a lot to be accomplished. But we are confident that the governor understands the concerns we have. There are pressing issues facing our commonwealth and the governor needs to address those issues. At the same time, the culture of Virginia must also be a priority for this administration. We will continue to encourage him to take the lead on family issues that are the foundation to the very economy he is trying to fix (see more of my comments in another article on this topic in the Richmond Times-Dispatch).

The Family Foundation is determined to be strategic in our efforts. We understand the political climate is hostile and we have to accept that incremental victories are victories nonetheless. Those who demand "all or nothing" tend to receive nothing. We are encouraged by the recent actions of Governor McDonnell and continue to believe he will fulfill his campaign promises.

Virginia News Stand: April 29, 2010

Annotations & Elucidations The Comeback Continues

The last 48 hours have been good ones for the culture and religious freedom in America and Virginia. Pro-life laws in Oklahoma, a Cross allowed to stay at a memorial and, now, the reversal of a horrible and discriminatory policy in Virginia: the gag on State Police chaplains to pray in Jesus' name. Add that to the elimination of taxpayer funding of abortions in the commonwealth and tighter abortion restrictions in Nebraska, and it's been a reassuring spring in America at the state level, proving there is a movement (that gets results) looking to make its first strike back at a national government governing opposite the will of the people.

We are featured prominently in the lead, as one might expect, with four articles seeking Family Foundation response on Governor Bob McDonnell's reinstatement of the policy allowing state police chaplains to pray in public as they deem. That executive order dominates the news, but there is a curious item that slipped in the news cycle amidst all the chaplain coverage: The governor's reappointment of several Kaine administration officials, including State Police Superintendent Steven Flaherty (who needlessly started the chaplain mess, and boy musn't that been a fun conversation: Colonel Flaherty, if you want to stay, you will let them pray); Daniel Timberlake as director-Department of Planning and Budget; Richard Sliwoski as director-Department of General Services; and Patricia Wright as state superintendent of public instruction. He previously kept Secretary of Finance Ric Brown.

While they may be good folks, at first glance it seems odd to holdover people after getting elected with such a large mandate to make change in economic and education policy. One appointment we do like for certain is that of former colleague Mark Early, Jr. — his Family Foundation connection omitted from the Richmond Times-Dispatch article notwithstanding.

Among the other features in today's News Stand: Governor McDonnell's Rest of Virginia Ask The Governor from earlier today on WRVA-AM in Richmond (yesterday we had the N.Va. version), more reports on the Mojave Desert Cross decision by the U.S. Supreme Court and, speaking of the court, another case it heard regarding the privacy rights of those who signed a petition to initiate the repeal of Washington State's homosexual unions law. 

News

*Governor Lets Va. Troopers Refer to Jesus (Washington Times)

*McDonnell Rescinds State Police Prayer Policy (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

*Va. reinstates prayer policy for state police chaplains (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

*Va. Reinstates Prayer Policy for Police Chaplains (AP/WJZ.com)

McDonnell Reverses State Police Prayer Policy (Roanoke Times)

McDonnell reappoints several Kaine administration officials (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

McDonnell promises a statewide housing policy (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Audio

Ask The Governor (38:59) (WRVA/WRVA.com)

National News

Court skeptical on keeping petitioner IDs private (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Mojave Cross Case: A Signal on Religious Symbols (AP/FoxNews.com)

Supreme Court Allows Mojave War Memorial Cross (Los Angeles Times)

Illegal immigrants plan to leave over Ariz. law (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Democrat senators developing immigration bill (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Fla. gov. on cusp of independent bid for US Senate (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Obama warns of a 'conservative' judicial activism (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Census mail results could be trouble for 5 states (AP/GOPUSA.com)

In financial regs debate, senators look to details (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Commentary

After Policy Stumbles, Obama Turns to Politics (Michael Barone/GOPUSA.com)

Democrat Cabal Dangles Bait For Unwitting Republicans (Christopher G. Adamo/GOPUSA.com)

The National Day of Prayer: The Value of Offending (Paul A. Ibbetson/GOPUSA.com)

America's Political Grand Canyon (Debra Saunders/GOPUSA.com)

Another RINO Punch to the Conservative Gut (Bobby Eberle/GOPUSA.com)

Religious Liberty At Stake In Supreme Court, Fourth Circuit Cases

It seems like every day we hear about another assault on our First Amendment right to free religious exercise. From the silencing of prayers at high school graduations and government meetings to nondiscrimination policies intended to thwart religious activity, the message of leftist elites is clear — you can believe what you want (for now) but keep it to yourself. It makes us all the more thankful that we have advocates like the Alliance Defense Fund on our side. Yesterday, The Family Foundation joined ADF to co-host a luncheon briefing for attorneys and pastors on a religious liberty case that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court next Monday. This case (Christian Legal Society v. Martinez) arose when the University of California Hastings College of Law in San Francisco denied recognition to CLS, including equal meeting space and most means of communicating on campus. The reason? Although CLS welcomes everyone to all its events, CLS would not agree to eliminate its Statement of Faith requirement for officers and its voting members.

Hastings deemed CLS' Statement of Faith and its interpretation that Christians should not engage in extramarital sexual activity to violate the religion and sexual orientation portions of its nondiscrimination policy. Hastings has since interpreted its rule as prohibiting all groups from excluding anyone from voting membership or leadership on the basis of beliefs of any kind. The Ninth U.S. Circuit of Appeals, widely recognized as the most radical appeals court in the country, upheld Hastings' decision in a two sentence, unpublished decision.

Casey Mattox, legal counsel to the Alliance Defense Fund, and co-counsel on this case alongside CLS attorneys, told luncheon attendees about the impact this case may have on university campuses as well as the far-reaching impact it may have on any Christian ministry. In essence, if the left gets its way, any organization or church that receives state support — including tax exempt status — would be discriminated against if it does not accept behaviors that are contrary to their beliefs.

At the same time, The Family Foundation is working with ADF in seeking legislators who will sign onto amicus briefs it has drafted in a religious liberty case in Forsyth County, N.C. There, a lower court decreed that all prayers at government meetings must be so-called "non-sectarian." If the lower court is not overturned by the Richmond-based Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, it could mean that — for the first time in American history — prayers offered before sessions of legislatures, city councils, and all other public bodies in at least the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, must be censored to exclude all references to a particular deity (e.g., Jesus). The lower court opinion ignores the instruction of the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal appellate and district courts that previously considered this issue and upheld the cherished American tradition of uncensored legislative prayer.

Meanwhile, our policy team is focusing much of our summer research efforts on how we can best protect our First Amendment right to religious expression through the legislative process. We still have yet to see the General Assembly remedy the situation for state police chaplains who remain prohibited from praying publically according to their beliefs, and too many of our local governments have censored prayers at their meetings under the bullying of radical secularists at the ACLU. This must stop.

It is safe to say that our constitutionally protected right to freely exercise our faith in public is in peril. For many of our political leaders the Constitution itself is a nuisance. We must continue to work to ensure that the rights of all religious Americans are protected — and we will.

Virginia News Stand: December 8, 2009

Annotations & Elucidations Little News Is At Least Okay

If no news is good news, a little news must be at least okay. Today's headlines are few but bring encouragement. First, a bill has been filed for the upcoming session of the General Assembly that would restore State Police Chaplains' rights to pray in Jesus' name. Second, charter schools and how to get more of them is gaining momentum, and Governor-elect Bob McDonnell is fully behind that. Third, parties are being planned. Not all are for Christmas.

News:

Bill would give OK to chaplains' prayer (Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star)

Virginia’s charter-school law gets failing grade by education — reform group (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Gov.-elect says charter school applications to get boost in Va. (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

House of Delegates races set spending record (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Kaine's farewell party (Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog)

Gala Remarks By Family Foundation President Victoria Cobb

Tonight, you are part of the largest crowd to ever attend a Family Foundation Gala. Thank you for joining us and for your support of our work. Tonight is the first time that we have held our gala prior to Election Day. The past two galas, in fact, took place in the days immediately following elections, where we came together to lick our wounds and try to find solace after two miserable election seasons. Of course, we were being blamed for election loses by both politicians and pundits. Conservative principles, we were told, just can’t win. We were encouraged to shut up and go away. Frustration was growing among those of us who still believe in transcendent values, and that those values can win on Election Day.

So last year, I told you that we as pro-family Virginians had a choice. We could allow the frustration we all have felt to drive us to simply give up, see politics as a lost cause, return to our church pews and leave the field. Or, we could regroup, refocus, reshape our message, and work harder than we have ever worked before to make sure that our values are protected. We could ignore the pundits, the politicians and the naysayers and simply outwork those opposed to us.

Of course, there really was no choice. We simply cannot quit at any point, because we know that the values we share are the only values that can save our culture. They are principles that can make the lives of all Virginians better. We have positive solutions to the problems that families face.

Now, a year later, we are on the verge of an election where, perhaps, things will be different. Next week, we may elect pro-family conservatives to all three statewide offices, and even add pro-family legislators. Tonight, we look forward to Election Day with cautious optimism. One might even say we look forward to the future with hope for change. Perhaps, like me, while you anticipate electoral victory, you realize that it is just one small part of the cultural renewal that we seek. Maybe that is why, tonight, my enthusiasm for candidates is tempered by the knowledge that there is so much more to be done.

Let me make something perfectly clear. The optimism we feel, the anticipation for success, is not built on any single candidate or party. While many in this room are working tirelessly for individual candidates, our hope is not predicated on the person, but on the principles those candidates claim, and their record of action that supports those claims.

Last year, I made a commitment to you that The Family Foundation would not back down, would not quit, but would instead work harder than we ever have before. I pledged to you that we would work to reach more Virginians with the positive message of the sanctity of life, the importance of marriage, of freedom, of liberty. I promised that we would build our network of grassroots supporters. I told you that, through Pastors For Family Values, we would reach more pastors than ever before.

And that’s exactly what we have done. Just look around you this evening. Also, can I have all the pastors that are in attendance please stand so that we may recognize you?

Now, I know that our attendance tonight has just a little bit to do with our speaker, but I also believe it’s because you are committed to the mission of The Family Foundation and the work that we are doing. Tonight is simply a reflection of the value each of us places on this work. A moment of renewal; of celebration; of motivation. Leaving this room last November I know many of us had a renewed excitement, a rekindled dedication, and we got to work.

With that new motivation, this year The Family Foundation and our sister organization The Family Foundation Action undertook the largest and most expensive voter education and voter mobilization campaign in our history, called Winning Matters. Thanks to the help of an organization called Let Freedom Ring, we were given the opportunity to create Winning Matters, and thanks to many of you we met the challenge. This campaign is larger than the marriage amendment campaign of 2006 in both scope and cost. Incredibly, in a time where everyone is feeling the pinch of the recession, we raised the money necessary to meet Let Freedom Ring’s financial match.

Because of many of you in this room, we currently have eleven Winning Matters staff, nine of whom have been working with churches across Virginia, meeting pastors, attending community and political events, using social networking — every tool we can think of — to educate and mobilize our voters. Together, we have contacted more than 4000 churches, distributed over 100,000 GA Report Cards — more than twice as many as ever before — conducted or initiated hundreds of voter registration drives; we’ve identified over 40,000 pro-family Virginians who weren’t registered and mailed them forms and encouraged them to register and vote.

Over the course of this week we will be doing several Get Out The Vote Phone calls with Chuck Colson, Mike Huckabee and Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King. And we will be mailing thousands of voter education pieces to key House districts where pro-family conservatives are on the ballot. As we speak we are distributing nearly 1 million voter guides in 38 races to educate voters, including a Spanish statewide Voter Guide. For the first time this year we have also created a video Voter Guide to distribute virally through social networking sites.

We know that pro-family voters make the difference in every election, either by showing up, or not. We can honestly say that this election season pro-family voters have no excuse. They will be registered, educated and mobilized like never before.

But while we anticipate the success of pro-family candidates one week from now, we must remember that this is not the conclusion of our work, it is the beginning. One need only remember that just a few short years ago many of us celebrated the reelection of George Bush, anticipating the success of our principles. And while we were rewarded with two principled Supreme Court justices, we also became frustrated by someone who saw government as the solution to our economic troubles instead of the cause. We must remember that the terms “bailouts” and “stimulus package” didn’t start with President Obama, but instead with someone that many of us in this room helped get elected.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the first time we’ve been let down by those we’ve supported, and it may not be the last. But it is up to us to make it harder for those who claim our values during election season to abandon them once elected.

We expect, we demand, we deserve better. Let me be clear:

We expect that the first budget introduced by the next Governor of Virginia will ban taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood.

We expect that the first budget introduced by the next Governor of Virginia will fund roads, not the destruction of innocent human life.

We expect that the next Governor of Virginia will restore right of state police chaplains to pray in the name of Jesus.

We expect that the next Governor of Virginia will not stop at Charter Schools, but will open the locked doors of a quality education for all children in Virginia by providing real school choice.

We expect the next Governor of Virginia to reduce, not increase, the tax burden on Virginia’s businesses and families.

We expect the next Governor of Virginia to care more about the culture of Virginia than the road to the White House.

And we will not accept anything less.

But we will not simply leave it in the hands of the elected officials. Honestly, we cannot expect politicians to change the culture alone. I heard a pro-family leader recently who made a very strong statement about politically active Christians. He said that the first people to quit when we lose elections are Christians and the first people to quit when we win elections are Christians.

Again, let me be clear. Regardless of what happens next week, The Family Foundation will not quit. Winning Matters is not the end, it is the beginning.

The Family Foundation works at the place where our culture, our faith, and our politics intersect. While Winning Matters has concentrated on the political side, it is just part of our mission. We know that the only way we can be sure that our values are truly protected is by winning more people to our cause. There are still too many people who share our pews but don’t share our values or that have not joined the battle. We must reach them. One way we are doing this is our new partnership with Focus on the Family to bring The Truth Project, a comprehensive, transformational worldview-training program, to Virginia. We hope that through The Truth Project thousands of Virginians will be challenged to not just confront the culture, but to transform it. Anyone who has been through the Truth Project, or had the privilege of leading it as my husband and I have, know the impact this program can have.

We will continue to build our grassroots networks across Virginia, one chapter, one county, one Virginian at a time. We will continue to challenge pastors to speak truth to power through Pastors For Family Values. And let me just say how thrilled I am to announce tonight that Bishop Earl Jackson has agreed to be the new Chaplain for The Family Foundation and in that role the new leader of Pastors For Family Values.

Of course, we will continue to do what we do best. We will be there on January 13th when the General Assembly comes to town, advocating for your values in the hallways of the General Assembly building. Legislators can count on seeing our faces as they walk through the capitol building. We will continue to generate tens of thousands of e-mails from people just like you to our elected officials on the legislation, the issues, you care so passionately about. That isn’t going to change.

On the day the Declaration of Independence was signed, John Adams wrote a letter to his beloved wife Abigail. His words ring as true for us more than two hundred years later:

I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the gloom I can see rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is worth more than all the means.

As we gaze into the future it is clear that the work we have before us is great, and will cost us dearly. Yet while we have been called to this arena we call politics, while we work day in and day out to affect our culture though civic activism, and that means asking our elected officials to battle on our behalf, our hope, our trust, cannot rest entirely on them. Our trust, our hope, must be on the One who is greater than any. The light and glory that John Adams spoke of came from a recognition that the new nation he was part of founding was birthed with a reliance on God.

The foe they faced was so much greater than we could ever imagine. This rag tag group of independent colonists that bickered among themselves and could agree on little was facing the greatest nation and greatest army on earth. No one in their right mind thought they would be victorious. But we know on whom the Founding Fathers relied.

I am reminded of the words of Psalm 20:

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.

Tonight, as we look toward the future, while we anticipate new successes, as we hope for a renewal of our culture with the values we hold dear, let us do so with the knowledge and comfort that comes from knowing the one true God of the universe. Yes, we have a duty to carry His banner not just in our homes and churches, but also in our offices, our communities, and our government. And carry that banner we will, with truth and with grace. We will fight with chariots and horses, but we will trust in our God.

Thank you and God bless you.

Real Threats

Each Monday morning I join a small group of friends at a local coffee shop for a Bible study. This week I was chatting with the shop manager, thanking him for allowing us to meet and take up space for an hour each week. He said he was just happy to have the business and enjoyed the "atmosphere" we create.  Apparently, not everyone feels that way. He went on to share with me that another group began meeting at his shop for Bible study after they were thrown out of another local eating establishment. I wondered what they could possibly have done to earn such action and he told me that the someone had complained to that coffee shop's manager about the group. What for, you ask? Were they loudly prostelytizing customers? Were they beating their Bibles on the tables?  Singing hymns off key?

Nope — the person complained that "people like that should not be allowed to read their Bibles in public."

To which, apparently, the establishment's manager agreed and promptly asked the group to leave. 

As we ponder the culture we live in where simply reading a Bible in public is now an act that deserves punishment, and where we see our government officials censoring prayers (see State Police Chaplains), and where story after story of anti-Christian bigotry find their way into the news, we have to take heart that there are groups ready to fight for us and for our rights.

A few weeks ago, one such group, Alliance Defense Fund, held a regional litigation academy here in Richmond. The Family Foundation was thrilled to be able to co-host the event, where nearly three dozen attorneys met for a full day of training from ADF experts on how to defend religious liberty rights in court. No group is better equipped to protect our religious liberty rights than ADF, and we are thrilled to be their partner. Knowing that their allied attorneys are ready and abundantly able to take on these cases gives us some comfort that we won't go down without a fight.

Official Statement Of The Family Foundation On State Police Chaplain Prayer Policy

Statement of Victoria Cobb

President, The Family Foundation of Virginia

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia states:

"That all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." [Emphasis added]

Today, thanks to the action of the Virginia State Police Superintendent and its endorsement by Governor Tim Kaine, Thomas Jefferson's words are little more than ink on paper. The words of the Statute for Religious Freedom that is the foundation for the tradition of religious liberty in our nation and the precursor to the First Amendment rings hollow in the ears of those state police chaplains who have had their opinions in matters of religion diminished and their civil capacities affected simply because they refuse to silence their faith.

As is usual with the issue of religious liberty, the debate surrounding the policy and legislation before the General Assembly to correct it, including several editorials in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, is replete with misinformation, misunderstanding and confusion. Some, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, falsely claim that prayers offered before legislative or government bodies must be nonsectarian or non-denominational. Fortunately, the First Amendment and case law regarding this issue is absolutely clear and on the side of the chaplains.

Simply put, in no case involving public prayer at government-sponsored events (with the exception being public schools) does either the U.S. Supreme Court or any circuit court require that prayers offered be so-called "nonsectarian" or "nondenominational." In fact, the opposite is true. In the clear words of the Supreme Court's Marsh v. Chambers decision:

"In light of the history, there can be no doubt that the practice of opening legislative sessions with prayer has become part of the fabric of our society. To invoke divine guidance on a public body entrusted with making the laws is not, in these circumstances, a violation of the Establishment Clause; it is simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country."

Recently, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Pelphrey v. Cobb dismissed the argument that Marsh permits only "nonsectarian" prayers:

"The taxpayers argue that Marsh permits only "nonsectarian" prayers for commission meetings, but their reading is contrary to the command of Marsh that the courts are not to evaluate the content of the prayers absent evidence of exploitation. ... The court never held that the prayers in Marsh were constitutional because they were "nonsectarian."

Supporters of censorship, like the ACLU, are claiming that the Fourth Circuit Court's Turner v. Fredericksburg decision requires the state police's policy of censorship. Again, this is blatantly false.

While that case upheld a policy in Fredericksburg that censors prayers, it does not require that policy. In fact, in the words of Sandra Day O'Connor, who wrote the Turner decision:

"We need not decide whether the Establishment Clause compelled the Council to adopt their legislative prayer policy because the Establishment Clause does not absolutely dictate the form of legislative prayer."

Again, in Pelphrey, the Eleventh Circuit says:

"Although it upheld the policy of the [Fredericksburg City] Council, the Fourth Circuit expressly declined to hold that Marsh required a policy of nondenominational prayers." Adding, "[The courts] . . . have applied the precedents of the Supreme Court irrespective of the level of government involved."

Interestingly, in arguing against legislation reversing the state police policy in a recent Washington Post article, Kent Willis of the Virginia ACLU makes our case saying, "Maybe the worst part of all this is now you have the government deciding what's a proper prayer and what's not a proper prayer."

I couldn't agree more! The government should not be telling people how to pray or not to pray, and that is exactly what the state police policy does. Whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish or any other faith, chaplains should be able to pray at public events according to their beliefs, and those prayers should not be censored by the government. The legislation that has been presented to the General Assembly this year would simply protect chaplains of every religion.

Virginians are growing tired of these attacks on public faith. Our Commonwealth and nation are founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and no amount of revisionist history or politically motivated anti-religious bigotry will erase the truth. The First Amendment and the Statute for Religious Freedom protect the right of individuals to profess their faith in public. They do not protect a crowd from hearing about an individual's faith.

Once again our sacred rights are being sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. Unfortunately, expunging our religious heritage from the public square seems all too in vogue in 21st century America, with elected officials and their political appointees leading the way. In the name of tolerance, public faith is not tolerated. While we would hope that Virginia's rich heritage of freedom would insulate us from such discrimination, recent history proves this not to be the case.

Strong Religious Liberty Defense

Recently, when the House of Delegates passed Delegate Bill Carrico's (R-5, Galax) bill restoring the free speech and free exercise of religion rights of state police chaplains (HB 2314), the debate on the floor was fascinating. One of the best speeches in defense of the bill and of religious liberty rights was by House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith (R-8, Salem). We encourage you to see it here: