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Lawsuit: Maryland Jail only lets Christians apply for chaplain positions

Plaintiff Edrees Bridges – a Muslim who worked as a volunteer chaplain in prison – said applicants for a paid job were required to sign a “declaration of the applicant’s Christian faith”.

A Maryland man’s lawyers have filed a lawsuit against Prince George’s County alleging that the local prison discriminated against religious minorities by requiring that anyone applying for the position of prison chaplain must be a Christian.

The Baltimore Sun reports that the complaint was filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations on behalf of Edrees Bridges.

Bridges, according to the Sun, had served as a volunteer chaplain at a prison in Price George’s County, Upper Marlboro, since 2018.

In April, Bridges learned that the county was planning to hire a paid chaplain. When he asked for an application, however, he quickly ran into a dead end: the paperwork contained a “declaration of the applicant’s Christian faith” which had to be returned along with the other documents.

Since Bridges is a Muslim, he was unable to sign an affidavit.

Bridges, adds the sun, was saddened by the obstacle.

“I’ve always met people who were open to this variety of ideas and thoughts,” Bridges told the newspaper in an interview on Thursday. “As a chaplain, one of the most important prerequisites for starting a chaplain is to be there for everyone.”

The Baltimore Sun notes that the lawsuit also cites the American Department of Prisons as a defendant.

A group of Muslim men in Qatar offer duas or prayers. Image via Flcikr / User: Omar Chatriwala. (CCA-BY-2.0).

The American Prisons Department, the Sun says, has a contract with Prince George’s County to provide religious services to the county’s inmates. However, Bridges’ lawsuit states that Prison Ministry of America appears to have an openly Christian agenda: on its website, the company states that all of its employees are “committed to a Christian lifestyle and agree to our creed”.

To this end, applicants are asked to swear that they “believe in one God, Creator and Lord of the universe”, that “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was received by the Holy Spirit” and that “God’s Bible is authoritative and inspired Word . “

Of course, the US Department of Jail’s employment test seems problematic with its county contract.

Bridges’ lawsuit, for example, makes the obvious argument that the ministry’s religious test is illegal under the founding clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from establishing a state religion.

However, U.S. Department of Prisons Executive Director Mark Maciel told the Baltimore Sun that non-Christians can still run for chaplains. In fact, Maciel said the company already has several Muslims in the same position.

“We’re not excluding anyone,” said Maciel.

Maciel’s clarification, however, does not adequately address the core of Bridges and CAIR’s complaint, namely that the motion requires even prospective pastors to reaffirm their Christian faith.

“About a quarter of the people imprisoned [Prince George’s County Upper Marlboro jail] Identify as a Muslim and religious litmus testing should never be a requirement for counselors trying to meet their needs, ”said Mirriam Seddiq, attorney for CAIR and Seddiq Law.

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