Taking note of shrinking federal government revenues, Americans United for Separation of Church and State today urged the U.S. Senate to forgo appointing a new Senate chaplain.
"The U.S. government is running massive deficits and should not be spending our money on a Senate chaplain's salary," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United's executive director. "Taxpayers shouldn't be saddled with paying for senators' clergy services."
On Tuesday, June 17, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) asked the Senate to approve Navy Rear Adm. Barry C. Black as the next chaplain to replace Lloyd Ogilvie, who is retiring. A vote is expected before the end of the month.
The Senate chaplain, who draws a $130,000 annual salary, is expected to lead prayers for lawmakers every workday, but often the chamber is empty at the times prayers are recited. The chaplain is also asked to provide religious counseling to the lawmakers, their families and staff. (Total annual cost of the chaplain's office is $315,000.)
"It is long past time for Congress to stop using tax dollars to pay for its members' spiritual guidance," Lynn said. "The nation's capital provides plenty of houses of worship for lawmakers to attend many of them only short walking distances from Congress. With mounting deficits, shouldn't federal lawmakers fund their own religious needs, instead of requiring taxpayers to foot the bill?"
Though the Senate chaplain position has existed since 1789, James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution," said it violates constitutional principle.
In his "Detached Memoranda," Madison urged members of Congress to pay for their own clergy instead of using tax dollars.
"If Religion consists in voluntary acts of individuals, singly or voluntarily associated, and if it be proper that public functionaries, as well as their constituents should discharge their religious duties, let them, like their constituents, do so at their own expense," wrote Madison. "How small a contribution from each member of Congress would suffice for the purpose! How just would it be in its principle! How noble in its exemplary sacrifice to the genius of the Constitution; and the divine rights of conscience! Why should the expense of a religious worship for the Legislature, be paid by the public, more than that for the Executive or Judiciary branches of the Government?"
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.