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Atheist group seeks end to Alabama grief counseling by clergy

An atheist group is asking the city of Montgomery to provide evidence that sending clergy to support victims at violent crime scenes will reduce crime in the city.

The organization American Atheists has questioned how providing grief counseling after a crime will reduce the number of crimes in the city.

The group claims Montgomery's Operation Good Shepherd program is unconstitutional.  

“Considering that the program sends pastors to crime scenes after the fact to console victims, American Atheists questions the city’s claim that grief counseling for victims is for the purpose of reducing violent crime or acting as a deterrent,” the organization told AL.com.

“American atheists will be requesting that city officials provide the studies or other factual evidence they are using to support this claim for which taxpayer dollars are being used,” the group said.

City officials told al.com the new program dispatches trained clergy to comfort victims at crime scenes in an effort to combat violent crime. City officials said the purpose of the program is not for "religious promotion or recruitment."

Montgomery Police Department Chaplain E. Baxter Morris said the program offers an “evangelistic advance,” and said it gives him an opportunity to “share a word from Christ” to victims, AL.com reported.

According to the report, American Atheists claim the city is using the program “as a vehicle to proselytize.”

Montgomery City Attorney Kimberly Fehl said in a letter to American Atheists that religious leaders had volunteered to provide the counseling.

Fehl’s said in the letter that there has been a “misrepresentation of the objective and implementation of the program,” AL.com reported. Fehl said the program is part of many used by the Montgomery Police Department in its effort to combat violent crime.

Click for more from Al.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.