According to a federal lawsuit filed by a Muslim chaplain, Edrees Bridges, he was unable to apply for a job as a prison chaplain in Prince George’s County, Maryland because the application required him to profess a belief in Jesus Christ. Bridges rightly says that’s illegal.
The problem stems from the fact that the county has a contract with Prison Ministry of America to fill all their chaplaincy needs. But PMA is an explicitly Christian organization, which explains the Statement of Faith all applicants need to sign.
It also asks applicants to affirm that they “believe in one God, Creator and Lord of the Universe,” that “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was conceived by the Holy Spirit” and that “the Bible is God’s authoritative and inspired Word.”
Despite that, PMA’s leader says there’s no issue at all.
Prison Ministry of America Executive Director Mark Maciel said non-Christians aren’t disqualified from applying. The nonprofit already has Muslims who work as chaplains under its umbrella, he added.
“We don’t exclude anybody,” Maciel said.
Notice that he doesn’t fill in the gap he created. If non-Christians can apply, what are they supposed to do with the Statement of Faith? Where does it say that part is optional? How many potential non-Christian chaplains see that page in the application and just walk away? (And isn’t that the problem right there? Is that the goal?)
The issue isn’t the prison ministry. It’s the fact that the county is working with them. Why?! It’s one of those things that would never be tolerated if the county partnered with a non-Christian organization. You can bet there would be an outcry if the county had a contract with a Muslim chaplain group that insisted Christians could work for them… as long as they overlook the part of the application where they have to pledge allegiance to Islam.
Bridges’ lawyers at the Council on American-Islamic Relations say this is unacceptable, which is why they’re suing the county as well as the ministry:
“Edrees Bridges has served dutifully as a volunteer chaplain at the Prince George’s County jail. He is highly educated, deeply experienced, and perfectly suited for the job,” added Mirriam Seddiq of Seddiq Law. “To require Christian faith of a chaplain, which is by its very definition a role not limited to a particular religion, is to engage in discrimination based on religion. Edrees, inshallah, will hopefully be Prince George’s County Jail’s chaplain.”
“Incarcerated Muslims are among the nation’s most neglected groups, and CAIR’s commitment to protecting constitutional rights extends to this community,” said CAIR’s Maryland Director Zainab Chaudry. “Approximately a quarter of the individuals detained at this facility identify as Muslim, and religious litmus tests should never be a prerequisite for chaplains who seek to meet their needs.”
For his part, even if he’s allowed to apply, Bridges now says he may not. (Why work for a place that clearly doesn’t want you there?) His hesitancy is understandable.
Still, CAIR is asking a judge to declare the Statement of Faith illegal for these county positions along with requesting monetary damages. Hard to see what the other side is here. If all qualified chaplains can apply, there’s absolutely no need to profess your Christianity as part of the hiring process.
(Thanks to Izra’il for the link. Image via Shutterstock)