A week and a half ago, Hemant did a write up about how the police department is Montgomery, AL is sending Christian ministers to evangelize to people at crime scenes. This is, of course, to fight crime – not to spread Christianity. Except there are oodles of Christians in American prisons, so one can only wonder how that would work.
Even if it did work (which it wouldn’t) it’s unquestionably, no grey area, illegal, and American Atheists is all over it:
“This program is an explicit violation of the Constitutional requirement of separation of religion and government,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “The police department chaplain—whoever heard of an official police chaplain?—has openly said that it is his intent to take ‘evangelistic advantage’ of people in times of crisis and to preach Christianity to them.”
The program has trained 37 volunteer pastors so far who are on call to evangelize at crime scenes. Another Constitutional problem with the program is that it only trains Christian pastors. In order to be constitutional, alleges American Atheists, the program would have to provide equal treatment: Jewish rabbis, Muslim imams, atheist humanist chaplains, and any and every other religious or nonreligious group must be provided the same opportunities and the same privileges.
“Even without paying the ministers, using ministers as a formal part of the police department— as an outreach ministry — I think violates the Establishment Clause,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the School of Law at University of California in Irvine, as quoted in The Atlantic. “The government cannot take actions that appear to endorse religion. Using ministers in this way does exactly that.”
They’ve sent a letter to the police department explaining how the law is being broken. I read it. It’s the kind of letter you get to send when you’re holding all the legal cards. It opens with:
I am the President of American Atheists, Inc., and I write in a sincere attempt to avoid litigation directed against you and against the state of Alabama.
It essentially says “We’re your friends here, which is why we’re being nice and giving you a warning first” and finishes by strongly implying:
If the Montgomery police department has even remotely competent legal advisers (which I hope they do…because they’re a police department, but then how did this mess even come to fruition in the first place?), then the MPD will know American Atheists could follow up with the legal (and economically destructive) equivalent of nuclear warfare.