Chaplains offering prayers on behalf of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in North Carolina have been told to stop mentioning Jesus’ name in official invocations.
The policy has been in place for about one month, according to the Charlotte Observer, and it applies to police events such as academy graduations, as well as for promotions and memorials.
Maj. John Diggs, head of the department’s volunteer chaplain program, said any clergy member who doesn’t want to offer a nonsectarian prayer won’t have to, and an alternate chaplain will be found for a given event, the Observer reported.
It appears the department is trying to be sensitive to everyone, which is a step in the right direction.
“This is not in any way an effort to demean anybody’s Christian beliefs,” Diggs said, according to the newspaper. “It’s to show respect for all the religious practices in our organization. CMPD is not anybody’s church.”
There have, nonetheless, been a few hiccups with the new policy. One veteran chaplain said he asked to be excused from delivering a prayer last month because he couldn’t leave Jesus out.
“Jesus is all I’ve got for a blessing,” said Terry Sartain, pastor of Horizon Christian Fellowship in Charlotte, said. “Now I’ve got to find a balance. I want to serve the officers and their families. I don’t want to jam my beliefs down anybody’s throat. But I won’t deny Jesus.”
Other ministers said they had no problem relying on more inclusive prayers.
The department “is telling its Christian chaplains to observe the same practices we would desire and respect from Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu chaplains,” said the Rev. Dennis Foust of St. John’s Baptist Church of Charlotte, according to the report. “When we gather as citizens, we do not gather in the name of Jesus. Our prayers are offered to God with respect for the first clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
The new policy comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in January not to hear a challenge to lower court holdings in Joyner v. Forsyth County. In that case, Americans United members, represented by both AU and the ACLU of North Carolina, opposed the Forsyth County, N.C., Board of Commissioners opening its meetings with invocations that were almost always Christian.
Multiple courts agreed that the policy was unconstitutional.
It’s good to see that a police department is trying to be sensitive to the fact that government cannot favor one religion over all others, but rather than playing roulette with pastors since some don’t want to give a nonsectarian invocation, wouldn’t it be easier not to give invocations at all? Even non-sectarian prayer, after all, excludes non-believers.
Simply discontinuing police chaplains is the only way to ensure that church-state separation is upheld. It is impossible to please everyone, and if enough chaplains bow out of the program, it could end up being the only option.