Does sending ministers to crime scenes reduce violence? Atheists say no, and demand proof from Montgomery
Original Article: AL.COMBy Erin Edgemon | firstname.lastname@example.org
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on October 25, 2013 at 4:11 PM, updated October 25, 2013 at 4:19 PM
MONTGOMERY, Alabama -- American Atheists is asking the city of Montgomery to now provide evidence that sending clergy to support victims at violent crime scenes will lower crime in the city.
“Considering that the program sends pastors to crime scenes after the fact to console victims, American Atheists questions the city's claim that grief counseling for victims is for the purpose of reducing violent crime or acting as a deterrent,” the national organization said. “American Atheists will be requesting that city officials provide the studies or other factual evidence they are using to support this claim for which taxpayer dollars are being used.”
American Atheists released this statement after receiving a response from the city of Montgomery after the organization claimed the city’s Operation Good Shepherd program is unconstitutional.
The city of Montgomery says its new program that dispatches trained clergy to comfort victims at crime scenes is in an effort to combat violent crime; its purpose is not for “religious promotion or recruitment.”
Montgomery City Attorney Kimberly Fehl responded to American Atheists Inc. and Freedom from Religious Foundation’s claims in a letter dated Oct. 22.
Fehl stated in the letter that there has been a “misrepresentation of the objective and implementation of the program. Operation Good Shepherd is one of a number of initiatives of the Montgomery Police Department as part of its efforts to combat an increase in violent crime.
“Religious leaders in our community have volunteered to assist as counselors and their traditions of faith are not considered when applying for the program,” the letter stated.
American Atheists received the letter in the mail today.
The organization said what city officials have stated to media about the program “calls into question the accuracy of the city’s response to our letter.”
American Atheists stated that Montgomery Police Department Chaplain E. Baxter Morris described the program as offering an “evangelistic advantage,” and indicated his desire to share “a word from Christ” with victims of crises.
This causes American Atheists to believe the city is using Operation Good Shepherd “as a vehicle to proselytize.
“While awaiting further information, American Atheists calls on the city to diversify the program by including imams, rabbis, and secular grief counselors on a regularly rotating schedule,” the organization’s response stated. “If the Good Shepherd program has no religious motive, then the city should be willing to send out any trained grief counselor to assist victims no matter the victims' or the counselor's religious background.”
Freedom from Religion Foundation staff attorney Andrew Seidel previously responded to the city’s letter stating that he was shocked that the city defended its program.
“I don’t think they are clarifying any misinformation,” he said. “I think they are feeding misinformation. It seems very clear that the police officers and chaplains involved see this as an opportunity to convert people to Christianity and they have said as much.”
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