Six of the 17 chaplains for the Virginia State Police force have resigned because of new restrictions on prayer.
Earlier this month Col. W. Steven Flaherty, the state police superintendent, asked chaplains to offer only non-denominational prayers for public events and ceremonies.
One trooper was left with the impression that mentioning the name of Jesus was not allowed - a claim police spokeswoman Corinne Geller denies.
"There was no written directive nor were chaplains specifically told in their meetings with the executive staff and colonel that they could not use 'Jesus Christ' in their prayer," Geller said.
Flaherty said that the new rule does not apply to private ceremonies or individual counseling.
Still, many found that complying with the new directive would violate their conscience.
"There were several of us who felt that because of our convictions. about what the Bible says, we couldn't agree to go along with a generic prayer policy," said 13-year trooper Rex Carter, who works in Southwest Virginia.
Republican lawmakers in the state concurred, arguing that the new restrictions are a violation of the First Amendment and an attack on Christianity.
"For those of us who understand the importance of religion in American life and value the free expression of religion as one of our essential rights, the Kaine administration's directive is disappointing and disheartening," House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said.
"Censoring what these chaplains can say is a violation of their First Amendment right to freedom of expression," Del. Charles W. Carrico Sr., said.
The former state trooper is currently putting together an online petition to get the police department to rescind the new rule.
The state chaplain program, created in 1979, was designed to minister to department employees and grieving loved ones.
Source: The Virginian Pilot, The Washington Post, Lynchburg News Advance