A battle has erupted on Capitol Hill over the selection of a Protestant minister as the new chaplain for the House of Representatives. Some observers believe a Roman Catholic priest was passed over for the post because a historic anti-Catholic sentiment has permeated American government since its founding. Others suggest a Protestant was selected to please conservative evangelicals. In late November, House Republican leaders announced they had selected Charles Parker Wright, a Presbyterian minister, as the new chaplain. This surprised many of the 18 members of the House select committee who spent months screening nearly 50 candidates and eventually decided—by secret ballot—that a Catholic priest, Timothy O'Brien, was the best choice. When House leaders passed over O'Brien—who would have been the first non-Protestant in the post—opponents cried foul. "As a member of the House and a member of the committee and as a Catholic, I'm of fended and resentful," Anna G. Eshoo, a Democrat from California, told The New York Times.
Others are calling for the chaplaincy to be abolished. "The charge of religious bigotry damages the reputation of the House and undermines the public's confidence in the House leadership's commitment to religious nondiscrimination," says Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
Congress has had a chaplain since its founding in 1789, and the post became a full-time job in 1979. James B. Ford, who retired from the position in December, held the job for the past 21 years.
In addition to opening each House daily session with prayer, the chaplain also provides private counseling for members of Congress and their staffs.
Besides Ford, a Lutheran, former chaplains have included Baptist, Congregational, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Unitarian clergy.
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