By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 25, 2008
RICHMOND, Sept. 24 -- Six Virginia State Police troopers have resigned their voluntary positions as chaplains following the implementation of a policy that bans them from referring to Jesus Christ in public prayers.
House Republicans blasted Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) for the directive Wednesday, but Kaine's office said the police superintendent issued the directive.
"For those of us who understand the importance of religion in American life and value the free expression of religion as one of our essential rights, the Kaine administration's directive is disappointing and disheartening," House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said.
Democrats accused Republicans of playing politics six weeks before an election.
"It is hard for me to figure out why [the Republicans] would blame the governor for a decision made by the head of the State Police . . . except for the fact that they seem to blame the governor for everything, starting with tooth decay," Del. Kristen J. Amundson (D-Fairfax) said.
In a statement, Col. W. Steven Flaherty, the State Police superintendent, said he asked chaplains to offer nondenominational prayers at department-sanctioned public events but that the request does not apply to private ceremonies or individual counseling.
Flaherty said his decision was in response to a recent federal appeals court ruling that a Fredericksburg City Council member may not pray "in Jesus's name" during council meetings because the opening invocation is government speech.
"While the executive staff and Col. Flaherty are highly respected and provide great leadership, this is just a policy several of us could not agree with when it comes to the issue of individual prayer," said Trooper Rex Carter, who resigned as a chaplain in August.
The State Police chaplain program was created in 1979 to minister to department employees and grieving families and speak at graduations, funerals and other events and ceremonies. Since August, six of 17 chaplains have resigned.
Del. Charles W. Carrico Sr. (R-Grayson), a former state trooper, said he is organizing an online petition to get the State Police to reverse its decision. Carrico said he will submit a bill to overturn the action when the General Assembly returns in January.
"Col. Flaherty needs to abandon this attack on Christianity," he said.
Spokesman Gordon Hickey said that Kaine was not involved in Flaherty's decision but that the governor supports it.
"Gov. Kaine is a man of faith and dedicated his life to that service," Hickey said. "It's disappointing that [Republicans] would make such a political attack on Gov. Kaine and his faith."