An atheist activist group is accusing an Alabama police chief of violating the U.S. Constitution by embracing and collaborating with a prayer ministry aimed at curbing local crime.
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The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a church-state separatist group, sent a letter to Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper this week, complaining over his involvement in a Christian ministry called Prayer Force United -- and taking aim at sectarian prayers that the group claims are a part of staff meetings and events.
"We understand that you are 'a licensed and ordained minister serving at Faith Chapel Christian Center in Birmingham,' and that you are violating the Constitution by mixing your official government duties with your religious zeal," read the letter, written by Freedom From Religion Foundation attorney Andrew Seidel.
At the heart of the matter is the group's claim that Roper leads monthly prayer walks throughout Birmingham in an effort to lower crime.
According to the Prayer Force United website, these events are conducted "in coordination" with Roper. The prayer walks, which take place in different parts of the city each month, include churches and neighbors who appeal to God to crack down on crime.
Seidel charged in his letter that this collaboration between Roper and the faith community is unconstitutional, stating that it is illegal for the police chief to use his office to "advance, promote or endorse one religion over another, or religion over nonreligion."
The letter claims that prayer is not effective in stopping violence and that studies show that societies with less prayer actually have a lower rate of violence.
"The walks themselves may lower crime simply by having crowds on the streets escorted by police cars with flashing lights, but that is not because of the power of prayer -- it is the power of people," Seidel wrote.
But Roper told AL.com that prayer walks are only one of the many components his department uses to try and cut back on crime and pledged to continuing being inclusive and supporting interfaith events, as he says the department has done in the past.
"Obviously, it's no secret that I support the prayer walks and many other faith-based community events as one tool in our overall crime-fighting strategy," Roper said. "We have built strong partnerships with various groups, and I believe they have done a wonderful job committing their assets and assisting us in addressing various issues that affect crime."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation assembled a video with clips of Roper speaking about faith:
Roper added that he believes each individual's personal beliefs should be both "respected and protected."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation's letter concluded by asking the police chief to discontinue using his official title to promote Christianity and to cease his official relationship with Prayer Force United.
Additionally, the group asked that Roper reach out in writing to show that he has decided to uphold is "oath to protect the Constitution, not trample it underfoot."
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