Wasteful spending: Congress pays clergy $66,000/hour to pray

By L. Seidel
Staff Attorney
Freedom From Religion Foundation

Since 2000, your Congress has spent more than $10 million on prayers, the vast majority of which are to the Christian god (more than 96% of prayers in the House were Christian).

The Senate Chaplain’s Office has a budget of $436,886 this year. The House Chaplain’s budget is similar, but it was not a line item—it was lumped in with $24,980,898 for the “salaries and expenses of the Office of the Clerk, including the positions of the Chaplain and the Historian.” However, the Senate chaplain has three staffers—a director of communications, a chief of staff, and an assistant—while the House Chaplain only has two staffers—an assistant and a liaison. The salaries alone for the three in the House chaplain’s office top $345,000 according to InsideGov. Add expenses and Congress is spending $800,000 every year on its opening prayers.

You’d think with such large budgets the chaplains could afford bigger photos. Public domain photos from Congress.

The chaplain has only one duty according to House rules: to “offer a prayer at the commencement of each day’s sitting of the House.” The same goes for the Senate. That’s it. They may do more, but their only job is to kick off the morning with an invocation.

And they are well paid for this singular duty. According to the Congressional Research Service, in 2011 the House chaplain earned $172,500 and the Senate Chaplain earned $155,500. All for saying a prayer and only on the days the House and Senate are in session, something like 135 days.

Both the House and Senate Chaplains earn salaries equivalent to level IV of the Executive Schedule. Other employees paid at this level include the general counsels of the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force; the chief financial officers of NASA and the EPA; the Chief Information Officers of almost every major federal department and agency; and the Army’s Director of Civil Defense. That’s right, the federal government thinks that a post which has one duty—to give a less-than-2-minute invocation—deserves the same compensations as the Navy’s chief attorney or NASA’s accountant.

And even with those fat salaries, the official chaplains let “guest chaplains” deliver many of the prayers—about 40% in the House. The House chaplains gave 1,341 invocations over the 16 years from 2000-2015, or about 84 invocations each year. Guest chaplains gave another 857 over that same span. Congress is budgeting more than three-quarters of a million dollars every year for chaplains to give these prayers or coordinate the guest chaplains’ prayers.

If you do that math for 2011 (the chaplain gave 104 prayers that year), the House chaplain’s salary works out to $1,659 per prayer or, if the prayers average about 90 seconds, a salary of $66,346 an hour. (The House chaplain gave 104 prayers that year: 156 minutes or 2.6 hours.)

That’s more than 9,000 times greater than the federal minimum wage and more than the combined hourly wage for the CEOs of Starbucks, Macys and Wal-mart. In fact, it’s more than triple those CEOs’ combined hourly wage.

Think there are better ways for Congress to spend your money? Tell them so….

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