A Virginia Senate committee killed legislation that would have restored the rights of state police chaplains to pray publicly "in Jesus' name" at public events.
Although the legislation passed the Virginia House last month in a 66-30 vote, the bill died Monday in the Senate Courts of Justice committee in an 8-7 voice vote.
The measure would have reversed a policy, implemented last summer by State Police Col. Steven Flaherty, that required state troopers to offer only non-sectarian prayers at public events.
The state police had passed the policy after a federal appeals court upheld a Fredericksburg City Council ban on referring to Jesus Christ in public prayers at the beginning of council meetings. Democrat Gov. Tim Kaine supported the policy.
Six chaplains resigned last year in protest over the order, saying they should be allowed to pray according to their conscience.
"I am deeply disappointed in these eight Democrats who want to censor the prayers to eliminate the mention of Jesus Christ," former Navy Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a spokesman for the six police chaplains, told The Christian Post on Tuesday.
"I think they are establishing a dangerous non-sectarian religion and forcing their religion down our throats."
Klingenschmitt, who was fired for praying publicly in uniform "in Jesus' name," had delivered 6,805 paper petitions in support of the prayer bill to the 15 Senators on the committee.
He also led a crowd of 1,000 in a rally to protest the ban on praying in Jesus' name outside Governor Kaine's mansion last November.
The former Navy chaplain said he anticipated the prayer legislation to be an "election-year issue." And among the candidates running for governor this year is one Republican who supports chaplains praying in the name of a specific deity.
"I'm pleased ... that the candidate for governor, Bob McDonnell, has come in favor of this legislation to let chaplains pray in Jesus' name. And if he is elected to governor he can reverse what Gov. Tim Kaine has done which is ban prayer in Jesus' name," Klingenschmitt commented to CP.
Klingenschmitt said that if Virginia elects a governor from a political party opposite of the sitting governor, there might be "better luck" for the chaplain prayer legislation in 2010, under a Republican governor.
Klingenschmitt is no stranger to controversy over invoking the name of Jesus during a public prayer. In 2006, he was court-martialed and fired from the Navy for praying publicly in uniform in Jesus' name outside a church chapel on Sunday.
Congress sided with Klingenschmitt and rebuked the Navy, ordering them to rescind the policy. He is currently involved in a court battle to seek reinstatement in the Navy.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia had alleged that the bill the chaplains were pushing for was unconstitutional and threatened to file a lawsuit had the legislation been enacted.
A September 2008 poll taken by HamptonRoads.com, associated with The Virginian-Pilot, found that 76 percent of Virginians were in favor of allowing state trooper chaplains to mention specific deities in public prayers.
Klingenschmitt said he will take out full-page ads in Virginia newspapers this fall, publishing the names of those who voted against allowing Jesus prayers ahead of the November 3 election.
He noted that Sen. Creigh Deeds, one of three Democrats running for governor this year, voted against Jesus prayers.
He is hoping to gather at least 20,000 petition signatures at his Web site to deliver to the Legislature after the election.