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Virginia State Police Reinstate Controversial Prayer Policy

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By Rebecca Blatt

The Virginia State Police have reinstated a policy allowing chaplains to invoke Jesus in public prayers. Governor Bob McDonnell requested the change.

Until 2008, police chaplains in Virginia were allowed to lead public prayers according to their beliefs. That policy was rescinded after a U.S. appeals court upheld a rule requiring prayers at Fredericksburg city council meetings to be non-sectarian.

"The idea is that when the government itself prays it has to do so in a way that includes everyone, otherwise it undermines minority religions," says Kent Willis, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.

Religious groups asked McDonnell to reinstate the original policy. A spokesperson for the Governor says he does not believe the state should tell chaplains of any faith how to pray.

Willis says sectarian prayer by chaplains at police-sanctioned events is illegal, regardless of state policy. He says the ACLU will develop handbooks to explain the law and will consider legal challenges.

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