Friday, April 6, 2007

Blog Against Theocracy #1 - Chaplaincy

If a department of state government, the Department of Education for example, were to have a religious leader on staff (paid for by the tax payer) who gave prayers at the beginning of the work day, and considered it part of their job to proselytize to state employees and insure that their job was done according to Christian principles (as they defined them)...I think most people would say this was wrong and unconstitutional.

The state legislature on the other hand has chaplains on staff and has daily prayers, which have been very sectarian at times. The argument made for maintaining such positions is that they are 'historical tradition'.

The current chaplain of the Minnesota State Senate, Dan Hall, has said... (from Pastor leads outreach to state leaders)

"...these committed public servants have a need to understand the bigger purpose of life and to know the Lord in a deeper way.”


"We must pray that they would know God’s heart and have the courage to vote as Jesus would."

I accept that military chaplains serve a purpose of allowing for freedom of religious expression (with limits) to members of the military. Can anyone provide any good reasons (other than 'historical tradition') why taxpayers should be paying for a chaplain for a group of state employees (who happen to be working in the legislature), and not other employees?

This is part of the Blog Against Theocracy project....more pictures of Cat coming soon (I am waiting for her legal people to get the signed releases back to me).

Blog Against Theocracy Part 2 - Blog Against Theocracy Part 3

I've added a new post with a correction to this entry and more information.


The Truffle said...

Question: are there no places of religious worship where the legislators can go to worship? Why do they need a chaplain? Sense this doesn't make.

Cat's Staff said...

Good question... They claim they need a chaplain to dispense advise and guidance on religious matters more then anything to do with worship. There are just as many places available to them as there are to everyone else who works in the Twin Cities, and they probably have free long distance to call back to their district if they need to consult their own religious advisor, which would make more sense.

Bjorn Watland said...

My uncle is a chaplain in the air force. He doesn't live a lavish life, his family is pretty poor. I think the purpose of a chaplain in the military, is to provide counseling for soldiers. Maybe it seems weak to talk to a psychologist about your feelings, but it's acceptable to talk to a chaplain. That's what I've always thought. Still, I think this is a huge issue. It's one of the most obvious infractions of not establishing a religion, besides the pledge, and currency. Those were added in the 1950's, but how long have chaplain's been used? How long has a session of congress started with a prayer? Is that really appropriate? Doesn't it take the seriousness out of a governing body to begin a session with such superstition?

Cat's Staff said...

The purpose of military chaplains is considerably different then those in the Legislature or Supreme Court. When you take people away from home and put them in the middle of Iraq or South Korea or an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and they don't have the ability to carry out their normal religious practices...providing them with religious leaders protects their freedom of religious expression. There are also many counseling benefits. In fact a member of the military can freely go to a chaplain and complain about psychological issues with no repercussions many times, but if they go to a military psychologist they can be put on medical leave and have it put on their record.

As long as military chaplains are for the those purposes that's a different issue. One problem we see today is when a military chaplain is used to give prayers at military gatherings (after briefings in the morning for example) where everyone is expected to attend and opting-out isn't an option. More and more these prayers are very sectarian. There is a movement among evangelical Christians to put more of their chaplains in the military and also to change the traditions of the chaplaincy to allow them to pray sectarian prayers. They claim that by not being allowed to pray in the name of Jesus Christ (even if they in front of a 'mixed' group that may be a captive audience with non-Christians) their freedom of religious expression and freedom of speech are being curtailed. The fact is they took the job, the job may involve giving non-sectarian prayers at times, and if they don't like it quite and go back to a church in the U.S. where people come (voluntarily) to worship.

Anonymous said...


I am the Chair of the Interfaith Association of Animal Chaplains. I found your blog on a google search, and I found your question a great challenge.

First, let me say, I deeply respect your feelings about theocracies, and about organized religion. I myself don't care much for traditional mainstream Biblical religions because of their history, penchant for sexism, justification of violence and war, and inability to affirm scientific realities. I believe all religions have SOME truths, if you can weed them out from the cultural trappings and institutionalized dogma. Unfortunately, they have also been used to hurt as many people as they have helped, I think. Most wars have been started based on traditional Biblical religious interpretations and assumptions. Where there is violence and insensitivity, there is no genuine Spirituality, IMHO.

With that said, I still think spirituality (as opposed to religion) is hard-wired into the human brain, if only the "sense of wonder and awe in regard to the scientific sophistication of the universe". There are many interspiritual and modern spiritual movements that offer community without dogma, credalism, hypocrisy, sexism, and theocracy. A number of them encourage people to find their own answers, and affirms their unique search for life's personal meanings.

Chaplains give spiritual comfort to those in pain. Animal Chaplains do the same thing. Our Animal Chaplains help people with grief when their beloved pets are ill, dying or have recently passed. Like hospital social workers and chaplains there, they can hold hands with family members while awaiting news after surgery, during euthanasia, or at a pet funeral. Animal Chaplains can lead a dignified animal memorial service, always taking the grief of the pet owner seriously, and treating them with respect.

Why do we do this?

Years ago, I knew a Catholic family with five boys who adored their dog. When he died, they went to their Priest for comfort. The Priest told them official church doctrine said that animals do not have a soul, and therefore, cannot go to Heaven. Those words not only compounded their grief, but traumatized them even more. As a Psych major in college, I was mortified by what I heard. I learned that a number of traditional large religons tell their believers the same thing. In my frustration, I decided I should do something to prevent this from happening to other people.

I did research and discovered that some other faiths treat these questions with a question mark, rather than attempting to say definatively what happens when an animal dies. Also, even within each denomination, people do not agree, usually based on historic interpretations of text. GREAT! That is what they should hear. Question marks, not know-it-all dogma.

Also, some faiths tell you to find the ultimate answers to important questions WITHIN yourself. THAT IS AN EVEN BETTER ANSWER, IMHO!

So, I got together with a number of other folks in the country interested in religious study and animals, and we developed our own program (I was not the leader. Many of us were doing similar things, and we found each other via the internet.)

When a family calls us, we help them in a psychologically healthy way, comforting their grief, not pretending to have all the answers, affirming their love for their animal friend, and GENUINELY CARING for what they are going through. Hopefully, our support will help them move on, and will definately not scar them the way have in the past.

We offer a number of different religious readings on the subject of animals, encouraging people to find the ones that comfort them the most, whatever that may be, and from whichever source they prefer. Personally, I couldn't care less which ones they choose to lift themselves up out of their grief and despair. I only care that they do.

Do we baptize birds, give communion to cats, have confession for chinchillas, offer bark mitzvahs for dogs, or anything like that? Of course not.

But we do encourage people to love animals and to know that animals are creatures as dear and as valued as humans. We affirm the love they feel for their companion animals, and the grief they experience when they pass.

I hope my words provide some answers, and I hope you will give Animal Chaplains a fair shake. We are good people... honest.

Chaplain Nancy

Cat's Staff said...

Interfaith Animal Chaplains...haven't heard of that one. It reminds of someone who told me that she knew a Jewish Veterinarian...'does she only take care of Jewish animals'?

My post about chaplains in government wouldn't really have anything to do with that. I'm not talking about shutting down the work of chaplains/pastors/ministers etc.. They would have to support themselves at doing what they do...just like you. The problem is when government pays for it. You make a case for why your position is needed, but if it's import it will support it self and government doesn't need to pay for it.

What if the chaplain for the legislature in Colorado was giving prayers before the legislature explicitly saying 'Animals don't have souls, and that should be the official state position on the matter'. What if the state funded animal chaplains, but said you could only officiate at dog memorials and not cat memorials... Or you can officiate at any but you must do it in the name of the Dog Almighty.

Anonymous said...

You are mistaken, the champlain (Dan Hall) is part of a non-profit called Midwest Champlains. He gets paid through donations. HE GETS NO TAX DOLLARS AT ALL. This is very important, because a good deal of your argument is based on the complaint that our taxes go to pay for him and thus are a break of the separation of church and state. You have other arguments such as the prayers champlains offer in various places, and I am choosing not to get tangled up in those things today. Just know that his pay check is not great and is all private funds. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Betty Said...
I think that it is awesome to have this Midwest Chaplin at the Capitol. He is not paid by tax dollars, rather by donations. People have the freedom to either choose to relate with him or choose not to relate to him. They have the freedom choose to have prayer and confide in him their personal needs or not to. To have him at the Capitol is not an infringement on anyone's freedoms and is an asset to the state of MN.

Cat's Staff said...

I've added a new post with a correction to this entry and more information.