The Speaker and the Chaplain

With a policy agenda jam-packed with important issues that affect hundreds of millions of Americans and billions of more people around the world, last week House Speaker Paul Ryan took time out from the affairs of state, reportedly with the assent of House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, to fire Reverend Patrick Conroy, the chaplain of the House of Representatives.

It’s not yet clear why Conroy was fired; the firers aren’t talking. Some say Conroy’s blessing before the House vote on the tax cut bill implied disapproval of the bill. Others suggest that some House members felt Conroy wasn’t adequately meeting their pastoral needs. There has been no suggestion of any misconduct.

The Curmudgeon doesn’t care about any of that.

What he does care about is that someone is invoking the name of god before an elected body of public officials undertakes its work. He thinks that’s wrong.

What he does care about is that some members of Congress believe they are entitled to have someone on the House staff to address their pastoral needs. He thinks people who need someone to address their pastoral needs should go to their own place of worship and talk to the clergy there – because teachers and accounts payable clerks, carpenters and plumbers, nurses and physical therapists, retail clerks and waiters and annoying writers and the rest of us sure don’t have clergy on the staff where we work to tend to our pastoral needs.

What he does care about is that there’s no chance in the world that one of his own clergymen, a rabbi, will ever hold such a job. It took 200 years for the House to appoint its first Catholic chaplain, and if it took 200 years for that it’s going to take 200, 400, or 600 more before a rabbi gets anywhere near that job – and he’ll have to step over the bodies of a lot of cold, dead southerners to get there.

What he does care about is that in a country built with a pretty clear line between church and state the legislative body doesn’t see any problem with involving the church – any church – in the deliberations of the state and putting a chaplain on the House payroll.

And at a salary of $172,500 a year!

The Curmudgeon respects people’s religious beliefs and respects their right to express their beliefs and practice their beliefs as they wish but he rejects the idea of public deliberations beginning with prayers and rejects the idea that elected officials should have access to taxpayer-financed pastoral services and rejects the idea that the U.S. House of Representatives has any business employing a chaplain at all, let alone a chaplain paid with $172,500 of his tax money.

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