ACLU urges veto of Senate Bill 855 regarding National Guard chaplains, prayer

constitutionThe ACLU of Virginia has sent a letter urging Gov. Terry McAuliffe to veto Senate Bill 555.  The bill severely undermines the religious freedom of rank and file National Guard members by permitting military chaplains, acting as government agents, to push their personal religious beliefs during official National Guard events.
“The institution of military chaplains exists not to promote the free exercise of chaplains, but to promote the free exercise of service members,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director, Claire Gastañaga.
As the law stands, chaplains may conduct voluntary worship services for members of their own faith in whatever manner they see fit.  They may also counsel members of their faith in their mutual religion.
“We would not support any limitation of any person’s right to religious expression in an unofficial capacity,” continued Gastañaga. “However, a military chaplain acting in their official role does not have the right to use official mandatory events as a platform to disseminate their own religious views.”
National Guard members required to attend any official event have the right to not be subjected to a government actor’s personal religious beliefs.  Courts have upheld military chaplaincies because they “leave the practice of religion solely to the individual soldier, who is free to worship or not as he chooses without fear of any discipline or stigma.”  Katcoff v. Marsh, 755 F.2d 223, 231-32 (2d Cir. 1985).
“Vetoing Senate Bill 555 would ensure that the Virginia National Guard’s military chaplain system remains constitutional,” concluded Gastañaga.
Click here  to read the letter to Governor McAuliffe.

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