Why do we have them and why do they make $170,000? Actually, the Senate Chaplain makes a bit less than that (in 2011, he made $155,000). That’s probably because the Senate Chaplain has only 100 potential customers, whereas the House Chaplain has 435 of them. In any event, considering the lack of heavy lifting required by the job, these salaries (underwritten by the taxpayer) seem fairly generous.
So, what, specifically, do these chaplains do? According to their charter, congressional chaplains perform “ceremonial, symbolic, and pastoral duties.” While it’s hard to know what those duties might have been in the 18th century, today they seem to consist mainly of opening sessions of congress with a prayer, making themselves available to House and Senate members for spiritual guidance, and giving visiting religious leaders a tour of the building. Not a bad gig.
Of course, trying to evaluate or defend the incomes of disparate jobs is a fool’s errand. It’s not only comparing apples and oranges, it’s comparing apples and papayas. Dishwashers make $16,000 a year, school teachers toil in the vineyard for $50,000, the minimum major league baseball salary (even for a bench-warmer) is $480,000, and Wikipedia says Judge Judy gets $45 million a year for dispensing her aggressive, show biz justice. Forget about it.
The Senate Chaplain has his own crew. He has a Chief-of-Staff, a Director of Communications, and an Executive Assistant to help him dispense his duties. In 2011, the total budget for the Senate Chaplain’s office (including salaries and expenses) was $415,000. While that seems exorbitant from one perspective, from another perspective it seems meager, almost miniscule. After all, don’t we taxpayers spend $415,000 every 90 seconds or so in Afghanistan? It’s apples and papayas.
But the most conspicuous issue isn’t their salaries. Clearly, the elephant in the room is the apparent violation of the constitutional provision establishing the separation of Church and State. Clergymen prowling the corridors seems inappropriate. Simply put, why are we permitting (and paying!) some sanctimonious, Bible-thumping zealot to step onto the floor of the U.S. Congress and lead our duly elected government representatives in a mandatory prayer?
~ from Why Do We Have Congressional Chaplains? by David Macaray ~
This is a darn good question! To be quite frank, I never realized these folks were on the payroll. I thought they simply called in clergy to lead a prayer and then these folks went back to their congregations and monasteries.
I have no problem whatsoever with members of Congress seeking out religious instruction and guidance. As citizens, they are free to believe or not believe as their consciences direct them. But an official position and office that you and I pay for? That blows my mind.
It also suggests something else: prayer doesn't work! The US Congress can't seem to get any meaningful thing done. The only time the two sides seem to find common ground is in support of Israel, approving funds for the war/national security state and their shared evisceration of the US Constitution. When it comes to the employment problem or passing legislation to help out the vast majority, they are wholly (or holy) ineffective.
So, it would seem to me that all these mandatory prayers have been a waste...unless it turns out that "God" is a ruthless capitalist who supports rampant imperialism and sticking it to the poor. If he IS that sort of fellow, then maybe those prayers are working after all.