The city of McPherson announced Monday it would continue to pursue a police chaplaincy program.
The city received a letter Dec. 3 from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, asking the city to cease its chaplaincy program. The foundation alleged the program was a violation of the separation of church and state.
McPherson Mayor Tom Brown Monday at the city commission meeting, outlined the city’s stance on the issue.
“The Constitution does not protect freedom from religion. It protects freedom of religion,” Brown said. “I think the wrong preposition is being used here.”
In a written statement, Brown quoted former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.
“The First Amendment does not require — indeed, it does not permit — government to be totally oblivious to religion. Government may sometimes accommodate religion; in some circumstances, it must do so. Thus the question is not whether government and religion will interact, but how.”
Brown noted McPherson’s strong religious background, which includes more than 35 churches. He said the city and city attorney had been inundated with calls in support of the chaplaincy program, some coming from out of state.
McPherson Police Chief Robert McClarty applauded the commission’s decision in a phone interview Monday afternoon.
“I feel confident with program the way it is,” he said. “I am pleased with the support of the commission to move forward with the chaplaincy program.
“I think it is a benefit for both the officers and the community.”
Although the foundation’s attorney Andrew Seidel said Dec. 3 the foundation would not rule out litigation to resolve the issue, Brown said he did not fear a lawsuit, calling the foundation’s letter bullying tactics.
The chaplaincy program was established as a means for both officers and residents to receive counseling on a voluntary basis.
Both of the pastors who are currently serving in the chaplaincy program, which is in its infancy, are volunteers. The newly developed manual for the program prohibits the chaplains from proselytizing or promoting their own religious beliefs.
Brown said the program meets the Constitutional requirements under three main criteria known as the “Lemon” test.
• The program is for the secular purpose of counseling.
• The primary effect of the program is to provide counseling and comfort to people of all faiths or no faith. Although the two current chaplains are Christians, the program would allow chaplains of all faiths to participate.
• The program does not entangle the city in the church. As chaplains, the officers are not functioning as agents of their churches or their personal religions.
Brown said the next step in instituting the chaplaincy program will be to finalize the program’s manual.
The non-profit Wisconsin-based foundation was unable to be reached for comment Monday. Their phone number had been disconnected.