Fact Check

Tim Kaine Fired 5 State Police Chaplains for Praying in Jesus' Name?

Several Virginia state troopers resigned as volunteer chaplains in 2008 because of a departmental rule requiring that prayers at public events be nondenominational, but no one was fired.

Published Oct 6, 2016

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As Governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine fired five state police chaplains for praying in Jesus' name.

As you may have guessed from the example above, something happened in 2008 while Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine was Governor of Virginia having to do with police chaplains praying to Jesus and being out of a job. What news reportage from the time clearly shows, however, is that nobody got fired, and the governor had little, if anything, to do with what transpired.

This is how the incident was reported by the Washington Post on 25 September 2008:

Six Virginia State Police troopers have resigned their voluntary positions as chaplains following the implementation of a policy that bans them from referring to Jesus Christ in public prayers.

House Republicans blasted Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) for the directive, but Kaine's office said the police superintendent issued the directive.

In a statement, Col. W. Steven Flaherty, the State Police superintendent, said he asked chaplains to offer nondenominational prayers at department-sanctioned public events but that the request does not apply to private ceremonies or individual counseling.

Flaherty said his decision was in response to a recent federal appeals court ruling that a Fredericksburg City Council member may not pray "in Jesus's name" during council meetings because the opening invocation is government speech.

According to the Post and other sources, Kaine did not initiate the directive (although he did support the superintendent's decision). And despite attempts by partisan media outlets to portray the troopers' leaving their voluntary chaplain posts as "firings" or "forced resignations," all six resigned by choice to protest the new rule.

"While the executive staff and Col. Flaherty are highly respected and provide great leadership," one of the resigning chaplains, Trooper Rex Carter, told the Post, "this is just a policy several of us could not agree with when it comes to the issue of individual prayer."

Contemporaneous news coverage by the Virginian-Pilot confirmed that the resignations were voluntary:

Col. W. Steven Flaherty, the State Police superintendent, earlier this month had instructed his department's 17 chaplains to abide by a recent federal court decision upholding the constitutionality of nonsectarian prayers at government functions. At public functions, officers are permitted to use only nondenominational prayers.

In protest, six of the chaplains resigned those duties.

Flaherty cited the court decision — the case involved a challenge to a Fredericksburg City Council rule requiring nondenominational prayers prior to public meetings — in a written statement about the new policy.

"The department recognizes the importance as a state government agency to be inclusive and respectful of the varied ethnicities, cultures, and beliefs of our employees, their families and citizens at large," Flaherty said in a statement.

It also noted that the restriction applies only to sanctioned government events, not private functions at which a chaplain is asked to preside.

Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell directed the police superintendent to reinstate sectarian prayers after assuming office in 2010.


Kumar, Anita.   "Under Ban, 6 Troopers Resign as Chaplains."    The Washington Post.   25 September 2008.

Walker, Julian.   "New State Police Prayer Rules Prompt 6 to Quit Chaplain Duties."    The Virginian-Pilot.   25 September 2008.

Whitley, Tyler.   "Va. Reinstates Prayer Policy for State Police Chaplains."    Richmond Times-Dispatch.   29 April 2010.

David Emery is a West Coast-based writer and editor with 25 years of experience fact-checking rumors, hoaxes, and contemporary legends.