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Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has established a chaplain program for employees at the Department of Justice, led by a Pentecostal minister from Sheboygan.

Schimel is set to formally announce the program during a pinning and swearing in ceremony at the Capitol Thursday afternoon followed by a reception, according to an email sent to staff obtained by the Cap Times.  

The program will be a "critical component" of DOJ and will be run on a volunteer basis, according to the email sent by Deputy Attorney General Paul Connell. Chaplains will aim to support DOJ employees in their jobs, which can sometimes include difficult issues.

"We are a law enforcement agency, and many of our employees face potentially dangerous or traumatic situations, whether it is responding to an officer-involved death, helping a victim, or reviewing evidence of a violent crime," Connell wrote to staff. "Our important work here at DOJ comes with its burdens, and this program will assist any employee who may reach out and need to confide in a chaplain."

The six chaplains are based across the state, including Sheboygan, La Crosse and Milwaukee. The chaplains, all men, come from Christian faiths.

DOJ spokeswoman Rebecca Ballweg said the office has been in the works for at least a year and is a part of a wider push to improve law enforcement officers' physical and mental wellness at the agency since 2015. Those wellness efforts also include training in suicide prevention, law enforcement executives training, physical wellness and stress management. That programming is included in all DOJ-run training seminars and conferences, Ballweg said.

Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said qualified secular therapists would be a better option for DOJ employees who need support.

“This would be far more efficacious, with the bonus of not entangling religion and government. There can be no argument here that the state is obligated to accommodate the religious needs of state police officers, who are free to exercise the religion of their choice or pursue religious counseling with their own church,” she said. “We’re particularly concerned that the DOJ has created an all-white, all-male, all-Christian chaplaincy.”

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According to the DOJ statement of policy on the program obtained by the Cap Times, chaplains are required to be ordained or "licensed clergy ecclesiastically certified in good standing by a recognized religious denomination."

They are also required to undergo training, which includes several courses on ethics, suicide, death notification, and sensitivity and diversity. They are prohibited from soliciting donations or proselytizing to employees who have not otherwise sought out their services.  

Several of the department's chaplains have also served as chaplains in the military or other law enforcement agencies. The chaplains serve in a "multi-faith capacity," according to DOJ policy. Chaplains are directed to help connect employees to leaders in their own faith group when requested. 

"The department chaplain program coordinator shall make every effort to ensure employees have access to a department chaplain of the employee’s own faith group (if applicable) or religious affiliation to the extent practicable and as requested by the employee," according to the policy. 

 

Katelyn Ferral is The Cap Times' public affairs and investigative reporter. She joined the paper in 2015 and previously covered the energy industry for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. She's also covered state politics and government in North Carolina.