Re: Congressional Chaplains
GETTING RID OF THE CONGRESSIONAL CHAPLAINS
In the quest to bring down the costs of government, some
Republicans are talking about replacing the congressional
chaplains and their assistants with volunteer clergy. The cut
would save $289,000 a year -- and catch the Congress up with
decade-old American Atheist demands.
GOP transition team leader Rep. Jim Nussle has said that
Republicans should consider replacing the paid, full-time
chaplains with a series of volunteer chaplains from different
denominations. The chaplaincy appeared on a list of possible cuts
after the November elections. Additionally, Rep. Robert
Livingston (R-LA), the incoming House Appropriations Committee
chairman, has made public his support for ending the chaplaincy.
The Senate chaplain, Richard C. Halverson, claims that the office
of the chaplain is necessary because "There's no way a local
pastor could identify with the personal needs . . . of the
legislators, and their families and the staff, and their hurts
and needs and burdens and frustrations, without being here all
the time." Though his duties include giving a prayer before the
Senate each day, Halverson was quick to point out his other
activities. He "wanders the halls" of the Senate "ministering to
lawmakers and cooks alike." He counsels tourists and about two
people a day by appointment "plus walk-ins." Halverson, who is
retiring, receives an annual salary is $155,700. His assistant
receives about $50,000. The House chaplain, James David Ford, is
Congressional sessions have always opened with a prayer. In the
1850s, the House Judiciary Committee considered dispensing with
the office as a violation of the First Amendment. From 1855-1861,
on political grounds, Congress discontinued hiring a chaplain and
instead used local volunteer chaplains.
The practice was challenged in federal court by American Atheists
during the 1980s in the suit _Murray v. Buchanan_. First filed on
June 13, 1980, as _Murray v. Morton,_ 505 F. Suppl. 144 (D.C.
District Court, 1981), the final decision in the suit was in 1982
as _Murray v. Buchanan,_ 674 F.2d 14 (D.C. Cir. 1982). In its
decision, the federal district court held that the matter was a
political issue and was not ripe for adjudication by a federal
court. The merits of the case were not reached.
In 1982, at the same time as the suit, the House passed a
resolution asserting "the historic establishment of a chaplaincy
to be an appropriate and constitutional exercise." In 1983, the
Supreme Court upheld the hiring of a chaplain by the Nebraska
legislature, in a case brought by an Atheist legislator.
Commenting on the situation, the executive director of Americans
United for Separation of Church and State said, "The average
American worker doesn't have access to a taxpayer-funded chaplain
to lead prayer at the beginning of every workday. If the new
Republican leadership is serious about reform, let's see them
ditch this relic and plow that $289,000 into deficit reduction or
use it for some worthy social program." And over 200 years ago,
James Madison wrote, "The establishment of the chaplainship to
Congress is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of
Sources: Washington Post, 12/24/94; Chicago Tribune, 12/26/94;
American Atheist Newsletter, December 1994.
* WCE 2.0/2394 * American Atheists Online at 512-302-0223