What Would Jefferson Do? Prayer Bill Roils Richmond

February 19, 2009

Author: Fredrick Kunkle

Source: The Washington Post


As a former Virginia state trooper who has visited horrific crime scenes and notified families of the death of a loved one, Charles W. Carrico Sr. learned the value of prayer and turned to it many times, he says.

So Carrico, who now represents Grayson County as a member of the House of Delegates, said he felt he had to act after Virginia State Police chaplains were ordered last summer to give only generic prayers at public events, a ruling several interpreted as a ban on uttering "Jesus." Rather than comply, six of the agency's 17 chaplains resigned. Carrico wrote a bill to address their stance.

"As a Christian, I must pray to Jesus Christ," Carrico said. "I'm being told not to. Why should I even pray?"

Carrico has spent much of the 45-day General Assembly session waging an uphill battle for the bill, which would guarantee that state police chaplains can pray as they wish. He has enlisted support from a rabbi and Virginia Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, who is also a Republican candidate for governor.

Carrico's bill passed in the House, 66 to 30. A critical Senate committee vote is expected Friday.

"Faith is believing, and I'm believing," Carrico said of its chances.

This is not the first time the Virginia's General Assembly has waded into the First Amendment question of government-sponsored prayer. But this controversy over the separation of church and state seems certain to rile people on both sides, no matter what the legislature does.