Anglican Samizdat

March 18, 2009

To improve decorum, hospice chaplain is not allowed to use the word “God”

Filed under: Christianity,The fall of the West — David Jenkins @ 9:12 am
Tags: ,

A chaplain at Hospice by the Sea in Boca Raton has resigned because she is not allowed to use the word ‘God’. Not a nurse or a doctor, a chaplain:

A chaplain at Hospice by the Sea in Boca Raton has resigned, she says, over a ban on use of the words “God” or “Lord” in public settings.

Chaplains still speak freely of the Almighty in private sessions with patients or families but, the Rev. Mirta Signorelli said: “I can’t do chaplain’s work if I can’t say ‘God’ – if I’m scripted.”

Hospice CEO Paula Alderson said the ban on religious references applies only to the inspirational messages that chaplains deliver in staff meetings. The hospice remains fully comfortable with ministers, priests and rabbis offering religious counsel to the dying and grieving.

“I was sensitive to the fact that we don’t impose religion on our staff, and that it is not appropriate in the context of a staff meeting to use certain phrases or ‘God’ or ‘Holy Father,’ because some of our staff don’t believe at all,” Alderson said.

Signorelli said that she and other chaplains were told Feb. 23 to “cease and desist from using God in prayers.”

Signorelli said her supervisor recently singled her out for delivering a spiritual reflection in the chapel that included the word “Lord” and had “a Christian connotation.”

“But that was the 23rd Psalm,” Signorelli said – not, strictly speaking, Christian, as it appears in the Old Testament.

“And I am well aware that there were people from the Jewish tradition in attendance. I didn’t say Jesus or Allah or Jehovah. I used ‘Lord’ and ‘God,’ which I think are politically correct. I think that’s as generic as you can get.”

Signorelli resigned Feb. 25.

None of the six other chaplains objected to the ban on God’s name, she said.

Alderson said she was surprised by Signorelli’s reaction to what she characterized as a minor administrative directive aimed solely at improving the decorum of monthly staff meetings, where the desired tone from a chaplain should be motivational, not religious.

Alderson said it started after she asked a chaplain – not Signorelli – to say something “inspirational” and “thought-provoking” at a staff meeting. The remarks did not strike the secular tone she wanted, Alderson said. So, “I issued some guidelines.”

The obvious question that comes to mind is, why does the hospice employ chaplains if they don’t want them to talk about God? Asking a chaplain to motivate people, but refusing to allow her to refer to that which motivates her, is like asking Richard Dawkins to explain evolution without mentioning Darwin.



  1. Hospices employ chaplains in the US because they are required to under Medicare rules. If they want the US government’s money, then they need to employ chaplains as part of the patient care team.

    Comment by George Conger — March 18, 2009 @ 12:31 pm

  2. Thanks for clarifying that, George.

    I fancy nevertheless, that to employ a chaplain – even if under a degree of compulsion – and stifle what is bound to come naturally to a chaplain, is perverse.

    Comment by David — March 18, 2009 @ 12:37 pm

  3. I would go even further to say that other professionals (nurses, doctors, counselors) would object to such censure of their terminology and value systems, and their objections would be upheld.

    And venturing even further into the politically incorrect realm… if a non-Christian faith representative invoked the name of his/her deity, there would not be such a reaction on the part of the CEO, because those faith groups would not put up with it!

    Comment by Jonathan — March 18, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

  4. Please feel free to read the Hospice statements at I wrote the Chaplain’s one.

    The Christian community can not be accused of doing much due diligence in this. I thought we were admonished to approach a brother or sister if we had a dispute with them before going public. Do you want to know how many religious bodies or media or even people have called me, or us, at Hospice by the Sea to ask about the veracity of the story? One local pastor. One outraged Australian Christian who had read only the first published report. One American religious network – CBN. The rest have repeated the story with as much as an email question. And very few that I can see have printed the followup by the same reporter at or our statements. As I said, they can be read at our website.

    We are confident the truth will ultimately rise to the surface.

    Fred M

    Comment by Fred — March 21, 2009 @ 3:54 pm

  5. The follow-up article in the Sun Sentinal is here.

    Here is some of the material referred to by Fred M above:

    The recent attention drawn by Chaplain Mirta Signorelli to the use of specific religious or spiritual language now gives us the opportunity to clarify exactly where we stand. What is the policy surrounding the use of specific religious terms or titles? There is no policy.

    Chaplain Signorelli’s statement that Hospice by the Sea has restricted use of the word ‘God’ or any deity is wrong.

    The only time the issue has risen among our hospice team has been concerning all-staff meetings that do not in any way include patients or families. Spiritual Care Counselors are provided the opportunity to offer a brief word of encouragement to the staff at these meetings. Our administration reminded us that our staff is a diverse group. We have many traditions, backgrounds and beliefs represented. That is a huge part of our strength in the communities we serve. The suggestion – not a policy, not a directive – was that we remember this as we provide ongoing support to the entire staff. We want to include everyone and exclude no one. The suggestion only referred to our participation in monthly all-staff meetings. In no way was it intended by administration as applying to patient care. The Spiritual Care team, with the exception of Chaplain Signorelli, understood this.

    At Hospice by the Sea every single expression of faith, spirituality, culture, and tradition is permitted and encouraged. Any language appropriate to that expression is permitted and encouraged. Any name by which people identify their core beliefs is permitted and encouraged. Whether that expression involves many words and meaningful ritual, or silence and no ritual, it is permitted and encouraged. All these expressions are accepted by the entire Interdisciplinary Team that serves them.

    Comment by David — March 21, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

  6. Thank you for the quick response. I’ve been spending much of the day responding to comments I find posted, primarily at religious sites. Very few have been as quick to post as you have. Thank you.


    Comment by Fred — March 21, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

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