Attorney General Josh Kaul needs to undo his predecessor’s chaplaincy program that has inexplicably received little scrutiny.
The chaplains are all men, all white and all Christian. They’re volunteers, but part of a taxpayer-funded program — the brainchild of previous Attorney General Brad Schimel. Schimel lost his job to Kaul nine months ago, so why is Kaul fighting for Schimel’s pet program in court, instead of scrapping it?
Defending a program your predecessor implemented as a desperate ploy in his re-election bid is an odd political calculation on Kaul’s part. But there’s a bigger flaw with the Department of Justice’s new chaplaincy program: It’s illegal, as the Freedom From Religion Foundation will prove in court.
Government chaplains are legally permissible in very limited circumstances. Chaplains exist to lighten a government-imposed “burden” on religious exercise. For instance, military service members may have trouble finding a safe place to worship while serving abroad.
But Schimel did not create this all-Christian, all-male chaplaincy for the military or even prisons or hospitals. He created it for government employees — specifically, DOJ employees. A government chaplaincy can only be justified to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs when the government makes it difficult or impossible to seek out private ministries. And that’s not happening at DOJ. Its employees can go to any church whenever they want. They’re not soldiers overseas, they’re working normal hours in their hometowns. Most are office-bound workers who go home every evening. They can freely worship, or not, as they desire.
That’s why this chaplaincy is not about accommodating the religious beliefs of state employees. It’s instead about using taxpayer funds and the machinery of the state to promote Christianity. And that means it is unjust and unconstitutional.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued Attorney General Brad Schimel over the creation of the state Department of Justice's Chaplaincy Program, alleging that it is unconstitutional.
A second problem is hinted at by the demographic makeup of the chaplains. The program will inevitably discriminate against non-Christian DOJ employees. Kaul’s DOJ is favoring Christian employees and their families with free, on-the-job counseling while ignoring the needs of their non-Christian and nonreligious co-workers. Nearly 30 percent of Americans are non-Christian (fully 24 percent are nonreligious), a number that climbs to 44 percent for Americans born after 1981. These proportions are likely higher for DOJ’s 800 employees, given their education levels and education’s correlation to irreligion.
No doubt these chaplains claim a desire to assist people of all faiths and maybe even of none. But unlike other counselors, these chaplains are not licensed mental health professionals. They get some minimal training, but nothing that guarantees that in times of tragedy a Pentecostal pastor — as the lead chaplain identifies himself — will set aside his religion to counsel non-Christians. More broadly, chaplains view problems through a religious lens, a view inappropriate to nonbelievers. Claims that someone is “in a better place” or that “God works in mysterious ways” may be the bedrock of religious consolation, but are meaningless and even hurtful to nonbelievers.
The discrimination in this program is explicit. To be a chaplain in Kaul’s DOJ, the requirements are nearly all religious. One must be ordained clergy and in good standing with a church. The chaplaincy program actually excludes mental health professionals and therapists who could effectively counsel all DOJ employees. If the DOJ cares about the mental health of its employees, it should hire licensed, secular counselors equipped to counsel all those employees.
It’s best to scrap this chaplain program and, if employees need help, bring in professionals who can serve all DOJ employees, regardless of their religion or lack thereof. We all need to ask Kaul: Why are you defending Schimel’s unconstitutional, discriminatory program?