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Troopers allowed to pray 'in Jesus' name'

Gov. Robert McDonnell

State-trooper chaplains in Virginia are being told they can pray “in Jesus’ name” again just two years after then–Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine affirmed a measure ordering them to use only “nonsectarian” prayers or quit.

According to Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt of the “Pray in Jesus Name” organization, the new governor, Republican Bob McDonnell, has restored the rights of six state-police chaplains “to pray publicly ‘in Jesus’ name.'”

“This victory comes after our two-year campaign for Jesus’ name,” Klingenschmitt said.

He led a 1,000-person rally outside the governor’s mansion in 2008, then submitted some 15,000 petitions to reinstate the chaplains’ jobs and free speech.

“We faxed voter guides to 2300-plus Virginia pastors last summer, comparing Bob McDonnell, who campaigned for chaplains’ rights to pray in Jesus’ name, to his opponent Creigh Deeds, who voted against Jesus prayers in the Senate. Those pastors helped us move the polls from 47 percent to 44 percent before our faxes, to the 59–percent–to–41–percent victory for McDonnell on election day, because of this issue,” Klingenschmitt said.

He said now that McDonnell has lifted the ban, the six chaplains who turned in their badges rather than exclude Jesus from their prayers, including Rex Carter and Mike Honaker, will be invited back to their positions.

According to a political blog at the Washington Post, McDonnell dispatched the state-police superintendent, Col. W. Steven Flaherty, to announce the policy change.

“The governor does not believe the state should tell chaplains of any faith how to pray,” Tucker Marin, a McDonnell spokesman, told the blog. “Religious officials of all faiths should be allowed to pray according to the dictates of their own conscience, and in accordance with their faith traditions, while being respectful of the faith traditions of others.”

It also had been Flaherty who announced earlier that chaplains would be allowed to offer only prayers that did not reference Jesus.

The issue arose following a lawsuit against the city of Fredericksburg for banning a councilman from concluding his routine council prayers – offered on a rotating basis among members – “in Jesus’ name.”

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra O’Connor concluded in an intermediary court opinion that Rev. Hashmel Turner’s prayers were “government speech” and therefore subject to censorship by the city.

When the rule change was imposed, six of the chaplains resigned their responsibilities rather than be forced to pray without mentioning Jesus. At the time, Kaine said he didn’t need the name of Jesus in his prayers.

“It doesn’t diminish my ability to worship my God, to pray to the Father or the Lord without mentioning Jesus Christ,” he said.

Then a coalition of pastors wrote to Kaine seeking a change in the policy.

“Six chaplains lost their jobs as chaplains, having effectively ‘turned in their chaplain badge’ in protest over the governor’s ‘nonsectarian’ prayer policy,” Klingenschmitt reported at the time. “They are no longer permitted to perform chaplain duties, until they comply with the prayer policy and get reinstated.”

Klingenschmitt said the chaplains “were given direct verbal orders to stop praying ‘in Jesus’ name’ … [and] faced with a choice between disobeying orders and violating their conscience by publicly denying the name of Jesus Christ, they resigned.”

That’s exactly what persecution is, he insisted.

Klingenschmitt, whose battle with the military over his use of the phrase remains in court where he’s seeking reinstatement, said he “cannot believe we live in a society where government officials literally dictate the content of a chaplain’s prayers and dare to punish or exclude chaplains who pray ‘in Jesus’ name.'”