ACLU Calls On Providence Police Department To Halt Faith-Based "Prayer" Program

November 28, 2000 12:00 am

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In response to an announcement yesterday by representatives of the Providence Police Department about the establishment of a new program called PRAYER, designed to improve police-community relations, ACLU executive director Steven Brown issued the following statement today:

The ACLU is extremely concerned about the formation, through the Providence Police Department, of a group called ‘PRAYER’ to work to improve police-community relations. It is important to emphasize that our concern is not with efforts to bring together groups, including religious groups, in the community, to try to work at bettering this relationship. Indeed, the ACLU strongly supports such efforts. Rather, our concern is with the establishment of a police-sponsored faith-based activity.

It is simply inappropriate for the police department to be involved in bringing people together based on their religious views, and seeking solutions to problems through religious means. Further, the use of a police officer, paid by taxpayers, to arrange such activities clearly crosses the line of what is constitutionally allowable. The First Amendment rightly prohibits the government from promoting religious activity, however non-denominational its efforts may be styled. Police attempts to promote good community relations should not depend on shared spiritual values, for these relations are of importance to the Christian, Jew, Muslim, agnostic and atheist alike.

Of course, individuals and religious institutions can and do employ their own religious faith in the attempt to find solutions to these problems. But it is another thing entirely for the Police Department to officially promote such solutions and to use tax funds for that purpose. Indeed, this group’s first official activity has been to arrange a vigil ‘to pray for the safety and well-being of police officers.’ This can be done in the churches, without involving the police department as official endorser.

In sum, people of all faiths and of no religious faith deserve good police-community relations. We call on the Police Department to eliminate the religious activities from this program, and to leave it to the religious community itself to promote religious solutions to these serious problems.

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