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Lawsuit: Maryland Jail Only Let Christians Apply for Chaplain Position

— June 1, 2021

Plaintiff Edrees Bridges–a Muslim who worked at the jail as a volunteer chaplain–said applicants for a paid position were required to sign a “Statement of Applicant’s Christian Faith.”

Attorneys for a Maryland man have filed a lawsuit against Prince George’s County, claiming the local jail discriminated against religious minorities by requiring that anyone applying for the position of prison chaplain be Christian.

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

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

In April, Bridges learned that the county was planning to hire a paid chaplain. But when he asked for an application, he was quickly forced into an impasse: the paperwork included a “Statement of Applicant’s Christian Faith,” which had to be returned with the rest of the documents.

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

Bridges, adds the Sun, was saddened by the impediment.

“I have always encountered people that have been open to that diversity of ideas, diversity of thought,” Bridges told the paper in a Thursday interview. “As a chaplain, one of the core ingredients to begin a chaplain is to be there for all.”

The Baltimore Sun notes that the lawsuit also names Prison Ministry of America as a defendant.

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

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

To that 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 conceived by the Holy Spirit,” and that “the Bible is God’s authoritative and inspired Word.”

Of course, Prison Ministry of America’s employment test appears problematic insofar as its contract with the county is concerned.

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

However, Prison Ministry of America Executive Director Mark Maciel told the Baltimore Sun that non-Christians can still apply to work as chaplains: in fact, Maciel said the company already has several Muslims serving in the same position.

“We don’t exclude anybody,” Maciel said.

But Maciel’s clarification does not adequately address the core of Bridges and CAIR’s complain, which is that the application even requires prospective chaplains to affirm their Christian faith.

“Approximately a quarter of the individuals detained at [Prince George’s County Upper Marlboro jail] identify as Muslim, and religious litmus tests should never be a prerequisite for chaplains who seek to meet their needs,” said CAIR and Seddiq Law attorney Mirriam Seddiq.


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