Publicly Funded Chaplains

News Release: 
Monday, June 30, 1997

Civil Liberties newspaper July 1997

Malyon v. Pierce County
Washington Supreme Court
Volunteer Attorney: Dan Albertson


The state supreme court in April ruled by a 5-3 vote that the Pierce County Sheriff's Department chaplaincy program does not violate the separation of church and state. The ACLU-WA had filed a lawsuit in 1991 challenging the program for violating constitutional prohibitions on government sponsorship of religious activities.

Pierce County spends several thousand dollars annually to support a program of volunteer religious chaplains who provide crisis intervention and religious counseling to victims of crime and to deputies in the Department. The ACLU-WA contends that the use of public funds to support the religious counseling of persons who are not in a corrections facility or in institutional care violates the First Amendment and Article I, Section 11 of the state constitution; the latter states, "No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment ..."

A review of chaplains' reports showed that chaplains often engage in proselytizing in addition to nonspiritual crisis counseling. The chaplain who directs the program refers to it as a "Christian ministry." No non-Christian denominations are represented among participating chaplains.