Peace Officers

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

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