East Hartford police chaplains being sworn in. FFRF

This response is in regard to Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Annie Laurie Gaylor’s; viewpoint piece, “Why the East Hartford police should drop its chaplain program.”

As a former United States Marine, and an active Connecticut police officer for over 25 years, I have seen a fair amount of traumatic incidents.  As an officer, two of the most indelible instances were the body recovery efforts at Ground Zero following the September 11th attack, and aiding the officers of the Newtown Police Department after the Sandy Hook School Shooting.  Integral to those incidents, as well as numerous other tragedies over the years, was the presence of police chaplains.

While my family practiced organized religion when I was a child, it was something I never really took to.  I don’t consider myself to be affiliated with any organized religion.  Gaylor’s opinion placed concern on the fact that any particular denomination of a police chaplain is not universally representative of all citizens, and she is right.  However, I think she misses the point.  Police chaplains are not primarily there for the public, they are there for our police officers first and foremost.

Several years ago, I recall having a day at work where, emotionally, I could not muster the power to return home.  In my moment of need, I reached out to my department’s chaplain, who readily invited me to his home, interrupted his dinnertime with his family, and took the time to provide counsel for the emotional injury I was battling on that day. 

I didn’t reach out to the chaplain because I needed guidance from a religious standpoint.  In fact, it was the exact situation that Gaylor bemoans of, as my chaplain and I do not come from the same denomination. 

What was provided to me was an empathetic ear, perspective, and the message that I was not alone.  It was what I desperately needed at that particular moment, and it did not come from a stranger that knew nothing of me.  It came from a person who I had observed for years, knew me as a person, and who exhibited a true sense of compassion and caring for my fellow officers.  It was tangible, and something I could place my trust in, and would do so again.

I caution against Gaylor’s blanket message to the East Hartford Police Department.  While I do believe in the separation of church and state, this situation does not expressly breach that tenet in my opinion.  Police chaplains’ counsel is not forced on anyone, whether it is an officer or a citizen, and they are not paid by the government, nor do you find them “proselytizing” or “promoting” religion as they carry out their role. 

I can say from firsthand experience that police chaplains are merely fellow kind souls that have made themselves available to take care of those, who take care of us.  And the fact that they come from a spiritual background, rather than a medically analytical one, is actually something that I would argue officers find comfort in.

Sean Boeger is a Sergeant in the Stamford Police Department.