A group of 76 Ohio pastors confronted an atheist group to preserve a city's police department chaplaincy program.
In July, the Freedom of Religion Foundation (FFRF), demanded Mansfield Police Department end its police chaplaincy program because "government and religion do not mix."
"Police chaplaincies are unconstitutional. Government chaplains may only exist as an accommodation of a public employee's religious beliefs when the government makes it difficult or impossible to seek out private ministries," wrote Karen M. Heineman of FFRF. "In the case of police departments, there is no significant government burden on religious free exercise."
Heineman sent the letter after the Mansfield News Journal featured a story on the appointment of a new police chaplain, Pastor Chad Hayes, to the Mansfield Police Department.
In August, 76 faith leaders defended the program in a letter to the Mansfield mayor, police chief, and city law director.
"While the FFRF likes to think of itself as a legal authority on the First Amendment, one can observe this is often not the case in a court of law with its frivolous lawsuits against government institutions," they wrote.
"The FRFF asserts that since Pastor Hayes is a clergyman, he is not qualified to serve law enforcement officers and their families. It appears the FFRF wants a government employer to discriminate against a job applicant/employee in the workplace by firing him because of his religion, thus violating the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," they continued. "We believe this would be bad legal advice."
Pastor Rich Hurles, a police chaplain, and letter-cosigner told Frontlines Ohio the FFRF is targeting understaffed police departments and vulnerable officers.
"I, like many of the area chaplains I know, serve our police departments on a voluntary basis. The public scrutiny and demands placed upon police officers with ongoing threats of violence leads to extremely high levels of stress on a daily basis. Such stress can do more than affect an officer's job performance; it can also seep into and damage their personal life," he explained.
"Chaplains are lifelines to provide support and strength to the officers and their families," Hurles noted.
In a recent response, City Law Director John Spon said the city would continue with the program and disregard the anti-religious group's request.
"It is our opinion that our [City of Mansfield's] voluntary use of an available designated chaplain is lawful and therefore it is our intent to continue with voluntary use of our designated chaplain," he wrote. "At the present time, we see no need to respond to Freedom from Religion Foundation's spurious and unfounded allegation."