Last year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter to officials at the Chicago Police Department claiming that there were several indications that they were illegally promoting religion.
FFRF said CPD’s chaplain, Father Daniel Brandt, was delivering invocations and benedictions at official events and that CPD was even encouraging officers to participate by asking officers to remove their hats during the prayers. They also noted that the “Law Enforcement Code of Ethics,” which is recited by everyone during graduation ceremonies, included a line about how officers would dedicate themselves “before God” to their profession.
More egregiously, Chaplain Brandt said in a video on his official website that his goal was to convert everyone to Christianity.
“I look at my work as police chaplain as being pastor of the largest parish in the city of Chicago. I have the biggest flock, 12,000 or so, along with their families, and another 5,000 retirees.” In the same video, he states that his position is “a great way to bring Christ into the lives of others.”
In other words, Brandt saw atheist, Muslim, Jewish, and other non-Christian officers as targets of proselytizing, not people who might need secular counseling.
While there was nothing wrong with giving Christian officers the resources they needed to be effective cops, assuming they gave similar resources to non-Christian cops, FFRF saw all of this, with good reason, as a giant endorsement of religion.
Since that letter was sent, there’s been a lot of back and forth between the two sides as they debate what’s legal and not legal. Through it all, CPD has maintained that they’re not foisting Christianity on officers and that whatever Brandt’s website says is irrelevant because it’s a non-profit they have no control over.
But CPD does have control over who can use their logo and name, and a quick glance at the chaplaincy’s website very clearly suggests the two are linked.
That’s why the most recent letter from FFRF takes it up a notch by asking CPD to disband its chaplaincy program altogether if they don’t take corrective action on the other problems.
First, the Chicago Police Department provided assurances that “no orders will be given to remove hats during invocations or benedictions at mandatory CPD-sponsored events.” As noted in FFRF’s letter, while this may lessen the coercive nature of the prayer, it “does not remedy the regularly occurring constitutional violation of uniformed CPD chaplains delivering prayers at CPD-sponsored events. Including prayers at CPD events is itself unconstitutional.”
FFRF is requesting, again, that future CPD events and graduation ceremonies will not include prayers or other religious content.
Second, FFRF took issue with the CPD’s assertion that it has no power to stop its chaplains from promoting religion on a privately maintained website called “Police Chaplains Ministry.” Noting the unconstitutionality of government actors using their position to advance a religious message, FFRF requested that the CPD remove the appearance of department endorsement from the chaplains’ website.
“Regardless of how the Chaplains Unit is funded, the CPD holds the chaplains out as representatives of CPD in many ways, including the chaplains’ uniforms, badges, and email addresses, in addition to their involvement in CPD events and ‘being present on the street with officers in their daily realm,’” writes FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne in the most recent letter. “The CPD has not only the ability, but also an obligation, to stop its representatives from using their position with the CPD to promote religion.”
FFRF is requesting that all references to the department be removed from the Chaplains Ministry website and FFRF’s letter noted that a far simpler solution to ensure these violations are permanently remedied is to discontinue the chaplaincy program entirely.
He has a point. After all, if they care about the mental, emotional, and spiritual health of their officers, they should provide options for everybody, not just Christians. And it seems clear that only one religion is represented by the CPD and those with authority within it.
(Top image via Shutterstock. Portions of this article were published earlier)