Atheist Group Takes Issue With Police Awards Ceremony Held at Theological Seminary

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OVIEDO, Fla. — A prominent professing atheist group has taken issue with an awards ceremony for a Florida police department that was held at a theological seminary and included an invocation.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) recently sent a letter to Jeffrey Chudnow, the chief of police with the Oviedo Police Department, to outline its objections to the event that took place this past March.

According to reports, the Oviedo Police Department Awards Ceremony and Career Track Recognition was held at Reformed Theological Seminary on March 31 and included a time of prayer.

“Allowing prayer at an awards ceremony sends the message that the police department not only prefers religion over non-religion, but also Christianity over all other faiths,” the letter from FFRF read. “Non-religious officers face the difficult choice of not attending the event and possibly forgoing well-deserved recognition, leaving the event when the invocation begins … or enduring a religious ritual that they might find distasteful or even deeply offensive.”

“Additionally, OPD awards ceremonies should not be held in churches,” it continued. “This practice forces employees, who may be of varying religions or have none at all, to enter into a Christian house of worship.”

Chudnow, a Jew, replied to the letter by advising that there had been no complaints about the event and that he himself was not disturbed by the location or the service.

“I can assure you that neither the Oviedo Police Department nor the City of Oviedo … have any intention of establishing a religion,” he wrote. “Also in this regard, no attending individual is required to engage in any prayer they do not want to participate.”

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Chudnow also corrected FFRF in noting that the event was not held in a church, but in a multi-purpose room at the facility.

FFRF wrote a second time, stating that there was indeed a complaint—their own, and that others might not have complained because they feared “persecution.”

“[W]e ask that you consider holding official ceremonies in facilities that are not connected with a religious organization like the Reformed Theological Seminary,” it stated. “Surely there are plenty of secular options in your community, public schools for example.”

Chudnow responded, contending that even at the U.S. Supreme Court has the Ten Commandments hanging on its wall, but FFRF asserted in response that the display is actually the Bill of Rights and not the Decalogue.

“As a private citizen, the Free Exercise Clause protects you. But, when acting as chief of police of Oviedo Police Department, you are the government. And the First Amendment prohibits government from impinging on citizens’ rights; it does not give the government any rights,” it argued this past week in regard to the award ceremony.

FFRF asked that Chudnow confirm in writing that his department will discontinue hosting ceremonies at religious facilities and cease offering prayers at the events. It is not known whether Chudnow plans to do so or ignore FFRF.

As previously reported, throughout America’s early history, a number of the Founding Fathers issued proclamations calling inhabitants to prayer, including in 1798, when President John Adams proclaimed a national day of humiliation, prayer and fasting.

“As the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and blessing of Almighty God, and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him,” he wrote, “…this duty, at all times incumbent, is so especially in seasons of difficulty and of danger, when existing or threatening calamities—the just judgments of God against prevalent iniquity—are a loud call to repentance and reformation.”

President Abraham Lincoln also proclaimed a National Fast Day in 1863.

“[I]t is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord,” his proclamation read.

“[I]nsomuch we know that by His Divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people,” Lincoln said.

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