An attorney who routinely defends religious liberty said atheist activists’ recent claim police chaplains are unconstitutional is “blatantly false.”
Roger Byron, senior counsel at First Liberty — a law firm that recently won massive U.S. Supreme Court cases surrounding school choice and religious liberty — defended chaplaincies during an interview this week with CBN’s Faithwire.
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“That is a blatantly false accusation,” Byron said of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s (FFRF) recent claim an Ohio police department’s chaplaincy violates the U.S. Constitution. “Government chaplaincies have been and continue to be completely constitutional throughout the history of the United States.”
As Faithwire recently reported, the FFRF, an atheist activist group in Madison, Wisconsin, recently argued “police chaplaincies are unconstitutional” and took specific aim at a program in Mansfield, Ohio.
“The Mansfield [Ohio] police department needs to get rid of its chaplaincy program at once,” read a July 22 statement from the FFRF. “FFRF is asking the Mansfield Police Division to discontinue the chaplaincy program and to provide secular support services instead.”
Watch Byron’s reaction to the FFRF:
The FFRF wrote a letter to Mansfield Police Chief Keith Porch detailing its opposition, and Byron, after learning of that missive, penned an opposing letter telling Porch to ignore the FFRF’s claims.
“My firm and I encourage you not to allow the complaint letter you received to intimidate you in any way,” Byron wrote, offering his services or advice as needed. The attorney reiterated these sentiments to Faithwire and dismissed the FFRF’s tactics.
“The standard procedure for [FFRF] and others like it is to send a complaint letter,” he said. “[It is] an attempt to bully and scare them into ending those programs or activities.”
Byron said there’s a rich history of chaplaincies, specifically in the legislative branch of government. History indeed shows the U.S. Senate had a chaplain as early as 1789.
“Government chaplaincies, specifically a legislative chaplaincy — they were in place in the United States prior to the First Amendment,” Byron said. “The men who enacted the First Amendment, the men that enacted the Establishment Clause, had a chaplain who was serving them at the time that they enacted the clause.”
The attorney believes the FFRF letter intends to convince the Mansfield Division of Police to “exclude men of faith from the chaplaincy program.” He said the recent Carson v. Makin Supreme Court case, which his organization successfully argued, makes it “clear and explicit” that excluding faith entities from government programs violates the Constitution.
The court recently ruled 6-3 in the Makin case a Maine school tuition program discriminated against faith-based schools and impeded the free exercise of religion. The dispute centered on a state education policy for rural Maine areas where there aren’t nearby public school districts available to students.
“Many school districts in Maine are too rural to maintain their own public school,” Lea Patterson, an attorney with First Liberty Institute, a religious liberty law firm, previously told CBN’s Faithwire. “For those families who live there, the state will pay tuition up to a certain amount to the public or private school of the parent’s choice — unless the school they choose is religious.”
This religious preclusion stemmed from a law passed in 1980 that cut faith-based schools from the program. Patterson explained that Maine, for decades, had included religious schools in the tuition program, which began in the early 1900s.
But the situation changed after the 1980 law purporting that religious school participation violated the establishment clause.
Byron said Makin, which corrected these education issues, also applies in the chaplaincy scenario. Watch him describe these issues in more detail here.
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