Six of the 17 chaplains on the Virginia State Police force have resigned following a request that they stop denominational prayers during department-sanctioned public events and ceremonies, state police said. The resignations stem from a request issued by state police Superintendent Col. W. Steven Flaherty earlier this month that has been castigated by House Republicans as a violation of the First Amendment and an attack on Christianity.
"When troopers take on the added responsibility of serving as chaplains, they reinforce their commitment to serve the public," said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican. "To then require those troopers to disregard their own faith while serving violates their First Amendment rights and prevents them from serving effectively as chaplains. These men had little choice but to resign."
Col. Flaherty said in a statement that a decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals prompted him to ask department chaplains to offer non-denominational prayers at public events like trooper graduations and an annual memorial service.
He said those chaplains whose beliefs conflict with the request would be able to opt out of participating in such events, and noted that chaplains performing at funeral ceremonies or counseling individual employees and their families were not bound by the directive.
"The superintendent continues to support and appreciates the dedication and efforts of our department chaplains who provide such a valuable service to our employees and citizens," Col. Flaherty said.