February 22, 2008

Why Are We Paying For Police Chaplains?

Bakersfield Police Department cruiserIn the community where you live, who pays for the police department? You do, right? Your tax dollars support your city police and/or county sheriff, right? Law enforcement is a well recognized function of the state, and even the most rabidly conservative anti-big-government sort typically values it enough not to complain too loudly about having to pay for it. So how do you feel about your tax dollars going to pay for police chaplains?

If you've ever wondered what a police chaplain does, you might be interested in this article from the Faith News Network. I have no idea how representative it is, but it does describe the day-to-day life of one particular police chaplain in quite a bit of detail. I suspect that at least some of it generalizes to other police chaplains.

While reading the article, I began to wonder how I would feel if I realized that a police officer with whom I was interacting was a chaplain. I imagined such an officer coming to give me bad news and wondered whether it would bother me even a little that he or she was a chaplain. I decided that it probably would make me feel at least a bit uncomfortable. Why? The blurring of police power with religion seems like a dangerous mixture to this atheist.

As this thought faded, I realized that the real issue was that I would be indirectly paying for such an individual. As a taxpaying citizen, I would be helping to pay the salary of a police chaplain. In fact, it strikes me as fairly likely that I am currently helping to pay the salary of at least one police chaplain! I don't mind supporting local law enforcement one bit, but I would like my support to be reality-based. I'd rather buy bullets than prayers. I'd rather buy fuel for their cars than sponsor superstition.

Part of what a police chaplain does, I expect, involves providing support to those who need it. What I've never understood is why this needs to be draped in religion. Plenty of secular mental health professionals provide support to those who need it without needing to dress it up in religion. I wouldn't mind paying for their services, but I object to what seems to amount to subsidizing religion.
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