Are mindful police officers, in the Buddhist practice sense, better officers? With the help of famed Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, Madison, Wisconsin police Captain Cheri Maples attempted to answer that question by organizing a non-sectarian retreat to introduce her unit to mindfulness practice in the hope that it would better equip them to deal with the emotional and mental stress that comes with being a 'peacekeeper.' Pointing out the rise in cop suicides in this country, Maples believes the practice could be vital in the dangerous practice of police work.
But Americans United for the Separation Between Church and State (AU) takes issue with the retreats. Citing the practice of mindfulness as Buddhist and noting that the retreat was led by a Buddhist monk, the AU believes that Maples is violating First Amendment proscriptions against state-sponsored religion. '[Maples] has explained that 'mindfulness' has helped her deal with the rigors of police work,' AU executive director Barry Lynn tells Tricycle magazine. 'While Captain Maples is entitled to hold these beliefs, the Constitution forbids her from using her government position to assert beliefs that advocate or endorse religious points of view.'
The controversy raises an interesting question: Is mindfulness a
religion? Maples is trying to focus the issue of the retreat away
from its Buddhist roots and make it applicable to the job. She
already requires members of her unit to undergo a three-hour
seminar on the emotional effects of police work, and sees
mindfulness practice as working in tandem with such training.
Nevertheless, the AU is asking Madison officials to look closely at
the constitutionality of the retreats.
-- Kyle Cohen
Caf? Utne: Discuss Buddhist meditation in the BodyMind forum
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