The Freedom From Religion Foundation on Wednesday dropped a lawsuit it filed a year ago against the state Department of Justice over its Chaplaincy Program after changes were made that encompass a wider range of support volunteers.
Now called the Employee Support Team, it is described on DOJ’s website as a “program that provides support to DOJ employees and their immediate family members when they wish to confide in individuals with experience and training in counseling, police chaplaincy, and/or empathetic listening.”
In October 2018, then-Attorney General Brad Schimel announced the Chaplaincy Program, calling it a “critical component” of the DOJ. In its lawsuit, filed Nov. 13, 2018, Madison-based FFRF said all of the chaplains initially appointed to the program were white Christian males, and that atheists and other non-believers were excluded from taking part. The program gave non-religious DOJ employees no option than to receive counseling from religious clergy, FFRF said.
It contended the program was an unconstitutional violation of the separation between church and state.
The lawsuit, originally filed in Dane County Circuit Court but moved to U.S. District Court in January, sought to have the program discontinued. The case appeared to be headed for trial next year, but with the creation of the Employee Support Team, FFRF is satisfied that the changes are adequate.
“All in all we’re quite pleased,” said FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We were hoping that when the original AG did not win we’d be able to head this off. It was a little more complicated than we thought.”
Schimel was defeated last November by current Attorney General Josh Kaul.
Gaylor said FFRF will continue to monitor the program to see that it remains the way DOJ has recast it.
FFRF and DOJ formally filed a stipulation Wednesday to dismiss the lawsuit, which states that “the matter has been mooted by action of the defendant.”