Va. Committee Derails Bill Fostering Sectarian Prayers For Chaplains

A Virginia Senate committee voted 8-7 March 2 to kill a bill that would have given State Police chaplains the right to use sectarian prayer at public events.

The panel’s action spelled the end of HB 2314, legislation introduced by Del. Charles W. Carrico, a Republican from Grayson. Carrico sought to nullify a regulation promulgated last year by State Police Superintendent W. Steven Flaherty, who has ordered that police chaplains use non-sectarian prayer at government-sponsored events.

Flaherty’s directive sparked an uproar in some quarters of the state. Six of the 17 volunteer police chaplains resigned in protest. But Flaherty and other state officials defended the move. They pointed out that police chaplains could still use sectarian language at funerals and other private events. At public services, however, they said religious language should be as inclusive as possible, in keeping with federal court decisions.

The Senate Courts of Justice Committee deliberated the matter for an hour. After the vote, Carrico complained about the outcome.

“The Christian faith has been persecuted in this country for too long, and people are tired of it,” he said.

The Family Foundation of Virginia, a statewide Religious Right organization, also deplored the vote.

“The birthplace of religious freedom is now the home of censorship and bigotry,” Victoria Cobb, Foundation president, said in a statement. 

The Family Foundation organized conservative clergy to speak out against the policy. But their rhetoric might have done more harm than good. At one press conference, the Rev. Rob Schenck of the National Clergy Council opined that as far as his supporters are concerned, unless a prayer mentions Jesus Christ “it’s not even a complete prayer.” 

Americans United’s Legislative Department rallied opposition to the bill and sent letters to every member of the Courts of Justice Committee, urging them to vote against it.