CMPD chaplains told to stop invoking Jesus at public events

by: Mark Becker Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Volunteer chaplains have been a big part of the police community in Charlotte for years at memorials and celebrations offering support.

But now, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department chaplains have been told that they cannot invoke the name of Jesus in prayers at public events.

“When I heard this I was sad," said Pastor Terry Sartain, who has been a chaplain with CMPD for seven years.

Sartain said he learned of the policy when he got a phone call before a recent promotion ceremony saying he could not use Jesus' name in his invocation.

"I asked if I could withdraw, because Jesus is the only thing I have to bless people with," Sartain said.

He was allowed to withdraw from the ceremony and was told it would hurt his standing as a chaplain.

Major John Diggs, who oversees the chaplain program, said the policy is a matter of respecting that people may have different faiths and that it is not aimed at any one religion or denomination.

Some say the policy is long overdue.

"It's past time when they should've made a policy," said Jim Gronquist, a former Methodist minister who has been a practicing lawyer and member of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Gronquist said it's important to keep the separation between church and state -- in this case, between specific faiths and the police department.

"It's improper to mix up religion with the function of state agents, and as long as they're state agents, they should not be able to do that," Gronquist said.

Controversy is nothing new to the police chaplains. Several resigned two years ago when the department took on a lesbian chaplain.

But Terry Sartain did not walk away then and he said he's not going to leave his ministry with the officers, whatever their beliefs.

“They know when I ride with them that I love them for who they are," Sartain said.