July-August 2021 Church & State Magazine | AU Bulletin

A Muslim religious leader who wants to work as a prison chaplain in Prince George’s County, Md., is suing, claiming that the positions are limited to Christians.

Edrees Bridges, an assistant imam at a local mosque, had been volunteering in the county’s jails when he learned that a full-time, paid position was open. Bridges approached Prison Ministry of America, a group that county officials contract with to provide chaplain services, about the job but was taken aback when he saw the organization’s statement of faith, which requires employees to affirm that they believe that “Jesus Christ, God’s son, was conceived by the Holy Spirit” and that the Bible is “God’s authoritative and inspired word.”

Prison Ministry of America officials say they’re willing to work with anyone who will sign the statement of faith. But Bridges says he can’t sign it, given its emphasis on evangelical Christianity. He argues that the statement effectively excludes him. Backed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, he is suing in federal court.

“Edrees Bridges has served dutifully as a volunteer chaplain at the Prince George’s County jail. He is highly educated, deeply experienced, and perfectly suited for the job,” said Mirriam Seddiq, an attorney working on the case. “To require Christian faith of a chaplain, which is by its very definition a role not limited to a particular religion, is to engage in discrimination based on religion.”

The Bridges v. Prince George’s County, Maryland lawsuit asserts, “Bridges cannot sign Defendants’ ‘Statement of Applicant’s Christian Faith,’ because to do so, Bridges would have to abandon his religious beliefs as a Muslim.”