ACLU to State Police: Some prayers unlawful

By Matt Butner - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT)- The ACLU has fired another shot in the battle over prayer at government functions. On Tuesday, the group sent a letter to state police, asking the agency to address the issue with its chaplains.

They're calling it a legal analysis. The ACLU sent a pamphlet to state police superintendent Colonel Steven Flaherty. It's a reminder of the case law surrounding prayer at government and police events.

"The issue is not about praying a Christian prayer, or a Muslim prayer, or a Hindu prayer- it's about any prayer at all that references a particular religion," said Kent Willis, director of the Virginia ACLU.

Last week, Governor McDonnell struck down a policy put in place in 2008, during Tim Kaine's administration. That policy prohibited specific religious prayers at state police functions, including those mentioning Jesus. Willis says McDonnell's stance is irrelevant.

"It doesn't matter what the Governor says," said Willis. "It doesn't matter what the policy is.  What matters is what the law is."

Willis points to several federal court decisions that form the basis of the ACLU's position. Critics of that position have said that no one has the authority to prevent a chaplain from praying in the manner he or she sees fit. The ACLU sees it differently.

"At some moments, they are no longer individual chaplains, but rather representatives of the government," Willis said.

State police tell us they did receive the ACLU's letter Tuesday afternoon, but declined to make any comment.

Copyright 2010 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.