A volunteer chaplain for the Shreveport, Louisiana, Police Department is fighting back after the Freedom From Religion Foundation called for an end to department prayer vigils as well as the volunteer chaplaincy program.
On Aug. 24, the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the Shreveport police chief objecting to the prayer vigils, saying that the department could not promote, participate in or provide funding for anything that had to do with public prayer.
In addition, the organization said that the chaplaincy program, which has been around for 17 years, extended beyond the department’s scope of practice and should be disbanded.
As a result, local news media outlets reported that the department caved to the requests of the organization, saying that the department “will no longer host or promote prayer vigils.”
However, Debra Kelly, a volunteer chaplain for the Shreveport police, said that isn’t entirely accurate.
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In a telephone interview, Kelly explained to The Western Journal that “the city attorney has now said that the police department can no longer promote the prayer vigils on their Facebook page. They will not send out press releases, and if the officers decide to come to the prayer vigils, it has to be on their own time, off duty, out of uniform.”
Kelly then countered the argument that the department would completely do away with the prayer vigils.
“We’re still going to have prayer vigils, and we’re still going to pray, and we’re still going to encourage our community to come together and we’re not going to worry about what some group in Wisconsin is going to make noise about,” she said.
Kelly explained to the Western Journal that the prayer vigils are meant to bring peace between the community and police officers, especially when there has been a string of violent crimes.
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She said that she had her first prayer vigil at her church in July after a weekend that saw four people were killed.
“We just said, ‘enough was enough,’ and so we came together as a community and invited the police department, and the city marshals, and the DA, and we had a very good turnout. We had about 300 people there, and so we just continued to have one every single month.”
Kelly, who has been a volunteer with the department for about a year, went on to explain that the “Pastors on Patrol,” the volunteer chaplaincy program, works within the police department as chaplains for the department. She said the program does not receive any type of government funding outside of uniforms and identification for the volunteers.
She said while there is also a donated vehicle that the chaplains could use, it’s not required.
“I pay for my own gas,” she said. “Everything that I have, I’ve provided for myself. I don’t ask the city to pay me back for anything.”
Additionally, she said, the program is funded through community donations, many times through local churches.
“My main job as a volunteer police chaplain is to be there for my officers in their time of need,” she said.
“We’re a multi-faith group. We’re very inclusive to all faiths, so there hasn’t been any discrimination against any faith. As a police chaplain, I don’t push my faith on any of my officers. When I get in a car with them, the first thing I say is, ‘I’m not here to preach to you.’”
Kelly said that she’s even had atheist and agnostic police officers stand with her and the police department during this attack from the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
She said they told her: “We support you, because you support us.”
Kelly told The Western Journal, “I think we’ve taken the separation of church and state way beyond what it was meant and designed for.”
She said that this attack by the Freedom From Religion Foundation has “made me more passionate about what we’re doing.”
“I have been reassured that the chaplaincy program is not going anywhere. Our police chief is a pastor himself, and is a very devout, Christian man,” Kelly said.
She added that she’s been told that the Freedom From Religion’s attorney considers this matter resolved with just a few minor changes. But then she sent a warning.
“If they continue to press the issue,” she said, “then I will continue to keep vocalizing, because I won’t be silenced.”
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