In mid-July, Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter to the city leaders of Mansfield, Ohio, warning that its police chaplaincy program was an impermissible mixing of church and state. In the letter, the group argued on behalf of non-religious officers:
"There is no reason to think a nonbelieving employee or crime victim would be comfortable dealing with a person who provides comfort from a religious viewpoint …. Claims that someone is 'in a better place' or that a god 'works in mysterious ways' may be the bedrock of religious consolation, but are meaningless and even offensive trivialities to nonbelievers."
In response, more than 70 pastors in the Buckeye State wrote a letter backing the Blue and their chaplains. In short: the city refused to bow to the atheists.
Randy Sutton of The Wounded Blue tells AFN chaplains play a vital role in the health and wellbeing of a police force. "Cops see a lot of horrible, horrible stuff. Post-traumatic stress injury is a major, major problem," he adds.
Sutton says all cops – even those who are non-religious – need someone to talk to on those occasions. "Chaplains are there to provide some guidance, some support, an ear that an officer needs to talk to in confidence," he explains.
Chaplains, he says, also help victims of crime in some of their darkest hours. "They ride with their different agencies and are available for people who are in need from having been victimized or experienced some type of trauma," he adds.
Bottom line, says Sutton: If FFRF takes this to court, a judge would probably throw it out in a heartbeat. "This lawsuit against the police department for having chaplains … shows you that somebody's got way too much time on their hands – and they have such a degraded sense of morality."
According to the FFRF letter, a concerned citizen contacted them after reading an article about the department's addition of a new chaplain, the pastor of a local Baptist church who served in the U.S. Marine Corps and as a deputy sheriff in Louisiana.