Recently elected Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee has found himself embroiled in a spat with Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence.
The row started when Chafee was inaugurated. The newly elected governor chose to break with tradition and not hold an inaugural public prayer service on the morning of his swearing-in. (He did invite a cross-section of religious leaders to the inauguration, which included an invocation and benediction.)
The governor’s spokesman, Michael Trainor, explained that Chafee, an Episcopalian, did not want to have a religious service out of “respect [for] the separation of church and state,” which is an “important constitutional principle.”
Trainor later added that the governor believes that all individuals should pray in their own way, rather than in a prayer service organized by an office of the state.
Tobin was not pleased with the explanation. The bishop did not come to the inauguration, despite receiving an invitation. It was the first time in 20 years that a bishop failed to attend the event. Tobin also blasted Chafee in a column in the Rhode Island Catholic called “Has Our State Lost Its Soul?”
Tobin attacked Chafee for upholding church-state separation – a phrase he said does not appear in the Constitution. The bishop claimed that the concept has been used as a tool to silence the faith community.