Voswinkel v. City of Charlotte

Decision Date19 August 1980
Docket NumberNo. C-C-80-012.,C-C-80-012.
Citation495 F. Supp. 588
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of North Carolina
PartiesPatricia J. VOSWINKEL, and the Society of Separationists, Inc. (a/k/a American Atheists), Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF CHARLOTTE and J. C. Goodman, as Chief of the Charlotte Police Department, Defendants.

Jonathan Wallas and James C. Fuller, Jr., Chambers, Stein, Ferguson & Becton, P. A., Charlotte, N. C., for plaintiffs.

Henry W. Underhill, Jr., City Atty., Richard D. Boner, Asst. City Atty., City of Charlotte, Charlotte, N. C., for defendants.


McMILLAN, District Judge.


This is a suit for declaratory and injunctive relief challenging the constitutionality of the police chaplaincy recently created by the City of Charlotte. Patricia J. Voswinkel, the individual plaintiff and president of the local chapter of the corporate co-plaintiff, the Society of Separationists, Inc., is a resident taxpayer of the City of Charlotte and an avowed atheist. The individual defendant, J. C. Goodman, is chief of police for defendant City of Charlotte.

The position in question is the result of an agreement between the City of Charlotte and Providence Baptist Church approved by the Charlotte City Council on November 19, 1979. The agreement provides that the Church will furnish the City with the services of a minister to serve as a "full-time" police chaplain. After opposing the agreement unsuccessfully before the City Council, plaintiffs brought suit challenging the arrangement as violative of the First Amendment prohibition against any law "respecting an establishment of religion." Defendants' motion to dismiss was denied after plaintiffs successfully amended the complaint to show standing to challenge the municipal act in question. The suit is now before the court on opposing motions for summary judgment.

Defendants contend the arrangement should be sustained as one with both a secular purpose and a predominantly secular effect. Plaintiffs insist the agreement gives a preferred position to the Providence Baptist Church, and to Baptists and Protestants in general, over other religious groups and results in "excessive entanglement" of the City with religion. Both sides submitted lengthy briefs, and the motions were heard on oral argument on April 10, 1980. It appears from the evidence of record that, while some facts are disputed, the disputed facts are not material to a decision in the case. After considering relevant decisions of the Supreme Court and lower courts, I hold that, on the undisputed evidence, the agreement providing for the police chaplain violates the Establishment Clause, as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Accordingly, plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment. A discussion of the evidence and the law follows.


The evidence before the court consists of the admitted allegations of the complaint; the depositions of Police Chief Goodman and Police Chaplain Dennis L. Whitaker; a stipulation of facts; a copy of the agreement; and an affidavit by Dr. Daniel Biber, a practicing clinical psychologist. Except where otherwise indicated, the evidence is uncontroverted.

The text of the agreement approved on November 19, 1979, is reproduced here in its entirety. Those provisions which assertedly render the entire agreement void under the Establishment Clause are underlined for emphasis.

This Agreement made and entered into this the 19th day of November, 1979 by and between the CITY OF CHARLOTTE, hereinafter referred to as the City, and PROVIDENCE BAPTIST CHURCH, hereinafter referred to as the Church.
That for and in consideration of the mutual covenants and promises contained herein, the parties hereto do agree as follows:
Beginning January, 1980, the Church will provide to the City's Police Department the services of a minister who will act as a full-time police chaplain. The minister will be clinically trained in counseling and crisis intervention, and selection will be only on approval by the City's Chief of Police. The minister, acting as a police chaplain, will be a staff assistant to the Chief of Police and will perform the following duties:
1. Serve as advisor to the Chief in any matter pertaining to the moral, spiritual and mental welfare of police personnel.
2. Counsel individual police officers and/or their family members in times of personal crisis, sickness, job-related stress, injury or death.
3. Assist officers and family members as necessary in obtaining appropriate outside professional services such as marriage counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and financial planning counselors.
4. Assist police officers and/or medical or rescue personnel in emergencies, disasters or other crisis situations;
5. Visit sick or injured police officers at home or in the hospital 6. Provide non-religious instruction at the Police Academy or at recruit orientation on areas of stress, crisis-handling and services of the chaplain;
7. Notification of the family of a police officer or employee of the death of or serious injury to the officer or employee;
8. Appearances at civic clubs, churches or other groups as a public relations representative of the Police Department.
The Police Chaplain shall be on call at all times through the police dispatcher and keep the dispatcher aware at all times of his location. He will make regular monthly reports of his activities to the Police Chief and to the advisory committee described herein. He will follow proper police procedures outlines sic in the Operations Manual of the Police Department.
The Police Chaplain shall not engage in religious instruction nor conduct any service of religious worship while wearing the uniform of his office or while acting in his capacity as Police Chaplain. The Chaplain may provide religious guidance to any police officer or other person he is counseling when he is specifically requested to do so by the officer or other person being counseled. The Police Chaplain shall not release any information to the news media or the public without the permission of the Chief of Police. The Police Chaplain shall not divulge to anyone information given to him in confidence by a police officer or any other person.
The Police Chief shall seek the assistance of the Charlotte Clergy Association in designating a Chaplain's advisory committee to include the former police chaplain, members of the clergy reflective of a cross-section of the membership in the Police Department, and also representation from members of the Police Department as determined by the Police Chief. Such committee will advise the Chief and the Chaplain on the role and activities of the chaplain and on the spiritual and moral welfare needs of police personnel.
The Police Chaplain shall be paid by the Church the sum of $20,000.00 annually as consideration for his services — including $10,000 from the Church and $10,000 from the City, paid pursuant to this contract. The City will furnish the chaplain equipment, an office and uniform, and make necessary arrangements for transportation.
This agreement may be terminated by either party upon the giving of thirty (30) days written notice.

The chaplain hired pursuant to the agreement is Dennis L. Whitaker, an ordained Baptist minister. He assumed his duties as police chaplain in January of 1980 (Stipulation of Fact). His background and experience combine religious training, clinical and classroom education in counseling, and extensive exposure to the area of law enforcement prior to his entering Southeastern Baptist Seminary in 1976.

Beginning in 1969 or 1970, Whitaker worked for roughly two years in public relations for a nonprofit agency involved in traffic safety. In 1971, he began five years as a criminal justice planner for the Centralina Council of Governments. During this time he had many contacts with police officers and gained extensive familiarity with police operations. One task he performed during these years was to help secure funding for courses "on stress management for police officers and how police officers could deal with family crisis situations." (Whitaker deposition at 4-7.)

Whitaker left his position as criminal justice planner in 1976 to begin study at the seminary. While there, he took "a great many courses related to counseling, family problems, crisis situation counseling." He spent his last year as a "chaplain intern" at Wake County Medical Center in Raleigh. A substantial part of his study at the seminary was, of course, devoted to religious matters (Whitaker deposition, at 7-9).

Whitaker testified at considerable length on his understanding of his duties under the agreement, particularly with respect to the provision that, while the chaplain is "not to engage in religious instruction nor conduct any service of religious worship," he "may provide religious guidance to any police officer or other person he is counseling when he is specifically requested to do so by the officer or other person being counseled." Whitaker testified to his belief, and that of all Baptists, that Jesus Christ represents the exclusive means to personal salvation and that Baptists have a duty to spread the Gospel. But Whitaker further testified that "I don't see that it would be incumbent upon me as a chaplain, ministering to people of all beliefs or nonbeliefs, to force my particular beliefs on anyone. . . . I have an obligation under the Christian tenets and under the church to respect the rights of the individual as to what he chooses to believe." (Whitaker deposition at 11.) On the other hand, he said, if an "individual indicated a problem in religious matters, if he indicated he wanted religious counseling, then it would be my obligation to talk with him about that. . . . If he comes up and says something that leads me to believe that he is, in whatever terms —...

To continue reading

Request your trial
7 cases
  • Malyon v. Pierce County, 63664-8
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • 24 Abril 1997
    ...needed to help people of all religious backgrounds as well as those with no religious background at all). Voswinkel v. City of Charlotte, 495 F.Supp. 588, 595-97 (1980) held Charlotte police department's use of a Baptist minister as chaplain failed the second prong of the Lemon test because......
  • Malyon v. Pierce County, 17367-1-II
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • 10 Octubre 1995
    ...126 Wash.2d 1004, 891 P.2d 38 (1995).72 --- U.S. at ----, 115 S.Ct. at 2521.73 --- U.S. at ---- - ----, 115 S.Ct. at 2525-26.74 495 F.Supp. 588 (W.D.N.C.1980).75 Id. at 590-91.76 Id. at 592.77 495 F.Supp. at 595; Id. at 596; Id. at 596-97.78 495 F.Supp. at 597-99.79 Respondents in Grumet br......
  • Carter v. Broadlawns Medical Center, Civ. No. 84-800-E.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Southern District of Iowa
    • 9 Julio 1987
    ...of the Establishment Clause apply to both legislative enactments and other governmental activities. Voswinkel v. City of Charlotte, 495 F.Supp. 588, 594 (W.D.N.C.1980); see also Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 675, 104 S.Ct. 1355, 1360, 79 L.Ed.2d 604 The Supreme Court has set forth a thre......
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • 12 Agosto 2003
    ..."enmesh[ed] churches in the process of government." Larkin, 459 U.S. at 127, 103 S.Ct. 505; see also Voswinkel v. City of Charlotte, 495 F.Supp. 588, 595-97 (W.D.N.C.1980) (court struck down police department's use of a Baptist minister as chaplain because: (1) the department contracted dir......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT