ADL, politicians remain troubled by chaplaincys Christian makeup

Jewish community leaders and local officials in Sacramento are keeping a watchful eye on a county-funded chaplaincy program that formerly required its staff to embrace Jesus.

The regional office of the Anti-Defamation League and some Sacramento County supervisors are among those expressing concern over the continued potential for church-state violations by Law Enforcement Chaplaincy-Sacramento.

In December, the agency had agreed to drop its Christian-only hiring policy — requiring aspiring chaplains to sign a statement saying they have "faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord" — following a probe by law enforcement, county officials and religious leaders.

But it did not toss the Christian-only policy for its board of directors, a decision that "troubled" Roger Dickinson of the county's Board of Supervisors.

"I don't think that it's illegal," said Dickinson, "but I do think that it's unwise for an organization in the position [of receiving public funds] to require its board to subscribe" to certain religious principles.

Karen Zatz, an associate director of the Central Pacific region of the ADL, agreed. She expressed concern over the potential for discrimination because of the governing board's makeup.

"I just hope they will abide in good faith and not discriminate in the way they hire employees or in who and how they serve with this use of public funds," she said, adding that the ADL will be monitoring the issue.

The agency's executive director, Mindi Russell, told the Sacramento Bee that this wasn't an issue since Law Enforcement Chaplaincy was planning to have an interfaith advisory panel to help its board establish inclusive policies.

As for the board, she told the Bee that the agency is a private, nonprofit that is formally organized as a Christian organization. "We don't want to change that because that is who we are," she said.

Law Enforcement Chaplaincy-Sacramento has served the area's policing agencies for the past 25 years. The Sacramento police and sheriff's departments send chaplains from the group to crime scenes to provide crisis intervention and counseling for grieving families.

Both policing agencies had asked the agency to make changes in its policy. The Sacramento Police Department had even gone so far as to deliver an ultimatum, saying it would sever all ties with the agency if it did not become more inclusive.

But because "they have now opened up to all faiths, we are still using them," said Sgt. Daniel Hahn, a spokesman for the police department.

Sgt. James Lewis of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department said that "based on the changes made to their policies and the composition of their program," the sheriff's department has also "extended our support."

Dickinson did not dispute the chaplaincy's effectiveness as an organization and said it has played a "valuable and comforting role" in the Sacramento community.

But he also said the unwillingness to change the membership requirements for the board of directors could hinder the group from receiving further funding. In fact, he said it was with reluctance that he and some of the other supervisors voted to retain the chaplaincy program's funding last month.

"The chaplaincy has taken a number of steps to try and ensure diversity," said Dickinson, "but I'm not yet satisfied that they've done all they should do in order to continue to receive public funding."

Dickinson added: "If they don't choose to come back for public funding then they are free to constitute themselves however the want."