JCFR to McDonnell: “Divisive effort to revisit sectarian public prayer at state police events…creates unwelcoming environment…[for] religious minorities”
Another week, another controversy has erupted for Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA). As the Washington Post reported yesterday, McDonnell made the decision to “quietly” reverse “a policy banning Virginia State Police troopers from referring to Jesus Christ in public prayers.”
For those of us in the Fredericksburg-region, you may recall the 2005 controversy surrounding City Councilman Hashmel Turner’s. In addition to being on the Council, he is also an ordained minister and part-time pastor at a local church. He filed suit in 2005, after the City Council implemented a policy requiring that all legislative prayers be nondenominational. He insisted that this violated his First Amendment rights and that he must close his prayers in the “name of Jesus Christ.”
The United States Fourth Circuit of Appeals eventually ruled that since the “prayers at issue here are government speech, we hold that Fredericksburg’s prayer policy does not violate Turner’s Free Speech and Free Exercise rights.” This ultimately resulted in police chaplains being instructed, in 2008, to offer only nondenominational prayers at any department-sanctioned public event. This had been the standing policy, until McDonnell “quietly” reversed this decision recently.
Virginia Legislators have stood behind this policy, since 2008, and defeated several bills over the years to legislatively change this policy.
It leads us toward unnecessary religious clashes, demeans our Commonwealth’s Jeffersonian principles, and creates an unwelcoming environment for the Commonwealth’s Jewish citizens and other religious minorities. A final concern is the likelihood that revisiting this guidance would ultimately lead to litigation costly to our Commonwealth.
In the letter, Fredericksburg Rabbi Devorah Lynn sums things up best when commenting on this issue, “When you are asked to speak in public for a group of people with different religious practices you need to think not of who you are praying to but who you are praying for.”
McDonnell once again proves that he is more interested on pushing his radical social agenda than on focusing on critical issues facing the Commonwealth. This has become a disturbing pattern with him. He continues to move Virginia backwards, essentially slamming the door shut on creating a more welcoming environment for all in favor of pushing a divisive social agenda. He seems more interested in spending time in the courtroom than the boardroom. Priorities Bob, Priorities.