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Church and state

The Freedom from Religion Foundation wants La Crosse police to discontinue using chaplains, arguing they are an endorsement of religion that entangles church and state.

The organization, a nonprofit that promotes that separation, claims that all chaplains are Christian expect for one rabbi and that there is no need for the department to offer their services to officers.

“Paid or not, chaplains are sponsored by the city,” the foundation’s attorney wrote in a letter to police.

Police Chief Ron Tischer declined to comment until the letter is reviewed by city attorney Stephen Matty, who said he is researching the issue.

“We take all concerns seriously,” Matty said.

Since 2001, police chaplains in La Crosse have voluntarily responded to emergencies and tragedy alongside local law enforcement to give support to victims and families, to provide death notifications, help victims contact family members or their clergy and locate community resources.

They also offer confidential guidance and a listening ear to law enforcement officers struggling with personal or work-related issues.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation got involved when it was contacted by a local resident who is not a member of the department, attorney Patrick Elliott said.

The foundation claims the police department could be liable for constitutional violations and a lawsuit because it discriminates against officers who are not Christian and may have to pay for counseling.

“Favoring religious adherents with free, on-the-job- counseling and ignoring the needs of those of non-Christian faiths or no faith is discriminatory,” Elliott states. “It does no good to claim that chaplains can meet the needs of nonbelievers … if chaplains were adept at providing secular therapy they would be therapists, not chaplains.”

Chaplains cannot set aside their religion to help a nonbeliever, according to the foundation, because they view the world and problems through “the lens of religion and a god.”

Chaplains in 2012 provided 8,784 hours of coverage to police while receiving only 28 calls, suggesting they are riding often with officers. The foundation argues there are no safeguards to guarantee employees are not being proselytized or pressured to use chaplains.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation suggests a secular counselor would be able to serve the department and “would be actually licensed to do so.”

Elliott requests a written response from the police department and is hoping for voluntary compliance before deciding the foundation’s next step.

Head chaplain the Rev. Mark Clements was unavailable Thursday but stated in an e-mail that the U.S. Supreme Court has validated volunteer chaplaincy programs.

"A careful look at our local chaplaincy program demonstrates that it is in line completely with the requirements of that case and is therefore constitutional," he said.

Clements said during a 2006 interview that chaplains are there to support officers, who suffer from highe-than-average levels of stress, high blood pressure, divorce and alcoholism.

"When they want to talk, when they want to ask, then I'm there with a listening ear," he said.

Chaplains also perform weddings, baptisms and funerals for family members of law enforcement officers.

"We really go out of our way to let (law enforcement members) know there are people that care about you and we're here to serve you and we appreciate you and what you do," Clements said.


Police and courts reporter

Anne Jungen covers law enforcement and the criminal justice system in La Crosse County. She joined the Tribune reporting staff in December 2005. You can contact her directly at or 608-791-8224.

(48) comments


" If a police officer is emotionally troubled, they need professional psychological help, not somebody whose only credential is having finished some Bible college. " are someone that we of faith pray for, you need all the prayer you can get!


Just had a tragedy in my family last night.. The chaplain was a great comfort and was nothing pushed on us, just offered in our time of need. Anyone who stands in the way of that helping hand being offered to hurting families or police officers is obviously someone too wrapped up in their own to understand the world going on around them, maybe you fear religion because you know religion is what you need the most, Hide behind the constitution if you will, but know that I will rise up with my Bible, my Word and my God...and those rights are protected too. I am very grateful for the chaplain program and I vow to fight for it to comfort families in the future.

Here comes the boom

There is nothing that says any of us have freedom from religion. Do we also have the right of freedom from free speech? Sometimes I bet we wish we could but it doesn't work that way.

Bill O'Rights

Freedom FROM religion is a more basic , necessary right than freedom OF religion. You can not be free to practice your religion if my religious beliefs are being imposed on you. That is one of the main reasons we must have separation of church and state.


Maybe the atheists should ask the inmates for their opinion. If the inmates dont want the chaplains, then the chaplains shouldnt be there.

I would guess among the tormented souls sitting in jail, there are many that would take the side of the chaplains. Shouldn't that end the debate?

Whether one believes in God or not, you have to wonder what motivates the sad, cold heart of this particular group of atheists.


Maybe everyone should ask the inmates for their opinions. If the inmates want chaplains, and the chaplains agree, then the chaplains can go to the prisons and visit the inmates. The state need not be involved.

The state doesn't need to be involved in anyone talking to a chaplain on their own time.


Seriously... picking on the cities chaplains that are with us to lend a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, or to be there for reassurance or guidance is just absurd. Doesn't this Foundation have better issues to address? Is this the same organization that made a big deal about the Ten Commandments in Cameron Park? In this era, we need as much help as we can get when stuff hits the fan. I for one "believe" that the Foundation should get their nose out of this issue and any other issue that arises and go lay next to their dish.


Your religion, but our government. That's not a hard concept to understand. This is not Iran.

Yes, it's a big deal.

"N.Y. Group Applies To Build Satan Statue At Oklahoma State Capitol"


You need to see one of your secular counselors. Soon. Please.


If we're going to mix religion into our government, can't we at least have a good religion like Buddhism? We do we always have to get stuck with evil Christianity? Let's abandon all the nasty religions such as Christianity and Islam. Replace them with Buddhism or Weaselology (which worships the Great Weasel up in the sky). Hey, don't say there is no such thing as the Great Weasel: you can't disprove faith in an all-powerful sky weasel with science alone!

Think there aren't any religions goofier than your hokey Christianity? No, Christians don't have a monopoly on weirdness:

"10 Extremely Weird Religions

"Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth (TOPY) was founded in 1981 by members of Psychic TV, Coil, Current 93, and a number of other individuals."

"The Church of the SubGenius is a parody religion that promotes slack, while in a meta-commentarial way, satirizes religion, conspiracy theories, UFOs, "

777 Rebel

FFRF shows no regard or interest in helping mankind in any way. Chaplains are their to help people. FFRF is truly pure evil. Ignore these pigs people.

Bill O'Rights

You just demonstrated why we need to have a separation of those with government power and those who represent religious beliefs.

"truly pure evil" and "pigs people"??? That kind of irrational bigotry has no place in law enforcement.


Since 2001, police chaplains in La Crosse have voluntarily responded to emergencies and tragedy alongside local law enforcement to give support to victims and families, to provide death notifications, help victims contact family members or their clergy and locate community resources.
They also offer confidential guidance and a listening ear to law enforcement officers struggling with personal or work-related issues.
My question is has anyone wanting to get rid of the chaplains ever had to deal with one? I have this last summer when my daughter was murdered. He was there to support us while we digested the news and then helped us get people notified. He was with us as long as we needed him that day and even after. Not once was there any religion brought into it. Just someone trained to deal with notifying a family of a horrific event and then helping them deal with it. I’m sorry I didn’t ask him if he held a degree but then again the “reporter” seemed to fail to look into if they hold degrees. She failed to get a lot of information for this article before publishing it or any other article for that matter. People seem to be missing the part that they voluntarily respond. I would not want their job for anything but I am happy they are there for other families that need them.

Bill O'Rights

For anyone who feels the need for the kind of support and guidance that some ministers can provide, and who wants to meet with one, there are several pages in the telephone directory that list the names, addresses and phone numbers. Or, they can simply go to the church they attend, if they are a member.

In our system, where the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights clearly calls for a separation of religion and government, the police, as the enforcement arm of the government, should not be actively involved with mixing the two.


Thank you for sharing your experience with us. You have provided us with the reality of what the chaplains do. Obviously he did not ask what your religious affiliation was, or if you had one. He offered the support you needed. So much for Elliot's statement that chaplains cannot meet the needs of nonbelievers. Back in the day when I was (notice past tense) a nonbeliever I received much needed guidance and support from a man of the cloth without him ever once telling me what I should or shouldn't believe. I would never impose my beliefs upon my atheist friends and they do not do that to me. We respect one another. Once again thank you for sharing. You know the truth of what you speak.


Ok - this story has been edited since last night - lol. The actually added some information.


Agreed - religion is not pro science or progress. The best solution to abortion is sex education. Also - too many hide behind religion to promote personal and corporate agendas. But religion is pro-comfort when at the end of the day have seen to much death and you just need someone to talk to. That DOES not mean you shouldn't follow up with a professional therapist if feelings persist. But having someone to listen at the end of the day - clergy is better than the local bartender or officers taking it home to their families. There is a balance. But - the story is too incomplete and its too easy to make assumptions.


The Freedom From Religion org isn't suing to get secular therapists for the Police department - only to get the clergy out. Getting the clergy out does not mean an alternative will be provided. The story is not very well written (as usual). The Trib never seems to do any investigating to get facts. The story implies many things but never actually says many other things-leaving people to jump to their own conclusions.
-We don't know if officers are talking to clerical during working hours.
-We don't know what services clergy actually are providing.
-Saying simply because they are clergy they aren't qualified to provide support is also an assumption - many clerical are certified.
-We don't know what alternatives officers have available to them.
To often the Trib seems to act as a mouthpiece for various people with a bone to pick - but the Trib never seems to do any independent investigation into the issue. The all seem like he-said-she-said articles. Why do they even have reporters? They might as well let everyone write stories and submit them? Let's actually have some verified facts in their stories.




Its because the Tribune doesn't have professional reporters on the job. They need to hire someone who has real reporting instincts They never dig deep into what the facts are on many stories. It's as if they never think a story through, as to what really makes a story, a story


This article may imply they are riding with the police by saying responded alongside, but seriously is an officer going to wait for a chaplain when responding to a call? The article says they offer gudiance it does not mention on or off duty. When the article says "discriminates against officers who not christian" it shows it wasn't written well and my grammar isn't the best but I saw that immediately. Since there is a rabbi as well that whole statement doesn't make sense maybe they just don't like Christians?


It should NOT be happening on paid duty time. Ride alongs maybe should probably stop for various reasons. But - most health care insurers provide some form of counseling also. The police department actually hasn't said they don't have a paid therapist on contract. I actually find it hard to believe one isn't considering what police deal with daily. But - i don't think we should discourage free therapy to officers and victims from clergy. Both can say no thank you if its offered. As i have seen no proof that officers get religious counseling on paid time, or that the police department doesn't have one on staff, or that it isn't provided via health insurance - the article seems to be missing some key points. Officers also may not want to go to a therapist paid for by the police department as such therapy isn't 100% confidential while clergy is 100% confidential.


Lady, we are not discouraging free therapy, we are discouraging fraudulent therapy. Social Workers/ Psychologists deal with social and psychiatric issues; clergy deals with religious issues. These are different fields. This unprofessional situation trivializes professionals who have devoted years of study to social and psychiatric problems/solutions and at the same time dilutes the efforts of those who have chosen to devote their life to faith based pursuits/religion.


I don't understand why people feel so threatened by religious people. I'm not religious and I don't let religious stuff bother me, so why do you?

Joe Hill

Everyone isn't like you

Deadwood subscriber

Because it holds back progress.

Religion, by and large, is anti-science, anti-critical thinking, anti-rational.

For example, "pray to end abortion" represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between prayer and...anything.

"Teach sex ed to end abortion," now THAT'S a sign I can get behind.


Being a jerk to religious people isn't going to prevent any of that.


Deezus- exaclty! I don't believe in fairies or UFOs, but I don't freak out everytime someone talks about them, I am certianly not going start a club with a sole mission of opposing them. I have better things to do.


Lady, we taxpayers could pay a lot more considering liability issues. If this type of service is needed, a professional social worker should be paid to do it. If a victim requests a priest or religious rep, fine, call one. To offer on the spot counselling from the representative of one religion it is akin to ambulance chasing. And, I would certainly hope that police who need therapy pursue it with a professional on their own time.

Sal Yodada

At least the atheists can't burn in Hades. They don't believe in it!

Sal Yodada

Yeah, free counseling is a very bad idea. It ain't like they would go around threatening to kill their wife and kids or nothin like that. They are all fine upstanding nice guys and wouldn't even think of doing something like that would they. They should have to pay for that and find it on their own time. I'm sure they would do that before they do something so stupid right?

Maybe they need to put a chaplain in every car based on what I am seeing with the bad cops and worse junkies in this crapp-hole. Makes me homesick for California!


I'm betting a secular therapist will want to get paid. The city should welcome any professional therapist that wants to volunteer UNPAID as well. Also the story does NOT say officers are getting therapy during work hours - only that non-religious officers would have to pay if they wanted therapy. Maybe the foundation can suggest some non-religious therapists that would provide their services to victims and officers for free. Personally as a tax payer I don't want to start paying for a service that is now free unless the OFFICERS have asked for it.

Bill O'Rights

The article certainly implies that this is taking place while the officers are on duty. If that is so, do you still think it should be happening?

Do you think that other government employees should be involved with preachers/ministers during their work time? If you do, how many hours per day should the employees be given to spend? Since these preachers apparently are riding around in the squad cars, should they also be walking around the government office buildings and asking workers if they want counseling?


Bill of $#!% are you kidding me? What other profession has to deal with death and injury and pain like a police officer? Shame on you for being a coward and hiding behind something you so obviously misunderstand. You count your hours, your dollars, you justify the pain....the rest of us humans will believe, and cope and have empathy for our brothers and sisters. AMEN!


Maybe I am not understanding this. Are untrained people, affiliated with specific religions, acting as therapists to on duty select government employees in government vehicles/buildings? Are religious affiliated clergy masquerading as non denominational social workers or therapists? What about liability? When they give faulty advice, are injured or injure, are the taxpayers liable? Without even considering the blatant disregard for "separation of church and state", this is an untenable situation.

Bill O'Rights

If individual police department members feel that they need to be counseled by a minister or priest or rabbi or imam they are free to do that, on their own time, not while on the public payroll. Do we really want to pay other government employees (bus drivers, clerks, street maintenance crews, teachers, etc. etc.) to stop their work duties and have "counseling" sessions with the preacher of their church. If a police officer is emotionally troubled, they need professional psychological help, not somebody whose only credential is having finished some Bible college.

Private citizens who feel they would like to speak with a minister can do that. They do not have to have a police officer tell them.


Good point, Bill O"Rights. We pay public servants to do their job. We shouldn't have to pay them while they visit their clergy. My hat's off to the individual who called in the FFRF.


Yeah, we won't stand for people helping other people. That's bad.

Joe Hill



Police officers do take breaks you know :)

Bill O'Rights

Do you know that this is taking place when the officers are off duty? What about when the clergy are riding around in squad cars?


Yes, so what? I honestly don't see a problem with it. Free (to the officer and the taxpayer) counseling at work for a stressful job sounds pretty nice to me. I haven't seen any reports that officers are being forced to utilize chaplains. If that were occurring, it would obviously have to stop.


The FFRF doesn't make a very convincing argument. Why would you tell someone that is volunteering valuable services to stop? It makes no sense, at all. If "free thinkers" want to have a chaplain equivalent, let one of them volunteer to be one. The same goes with the other religions.

Aren't "secular therapists" people that try to help people "recover" from religion? LOL

Joe Hill

Will Get crowded in the squad car



Let me get this straight. The Freedom from Religion people are making an issue in an organization that has no complaints about what its chaplaincy program does. Ok, i got it. Makes sense to me. Just a bunch of people with nothing better to do than stick their noses in places they arent wanted

David Lee

No complaints? Guess you are able to pretend the godsquad was involved in voter intimidation and spying for the gop when shrubbie was here. That alone makes them despicable scum who should not be allowed any position in the police department, even unpaid.

soul kitchen

Let them go out on the streets and preach.


Maybe ask for a unpaid non-believer to volunteer to talk to non-believer victims. Personally I want the believer to console me if I ever need it. Some people sure like look for ways to make others miserable.

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