Published August 24, 2016
This photo was taken after the Red Cross told the police captain he could not pray inside the shelter. The man he is praying with lost his home in the flood. (Clay Higgins)
A law enforcement officer said he was asked to leave a Red Cross shelter in Lafayette, Louisiana after he prayed with several flood victims.
Clay Higgins, a reserve city marshal and a local legend, dropped by after work to minister to evacuees at the Heymann Performing Arts Center on Aug. 19.
“I was not proselytizing,” he told me. “I was just there to thank volunteers and offer prayers and encouragement.”
Higgins, who is also running for Congress, was dressed in uniform and was holding a Bible.
At some point during the visit a volunteer approached Higgins and mentioned there was a problem.
“He said the Red Cross had an issue with me being there,” Higgins said. “So I asked him what the problem was. He looked down at my Bible and he gestured and said, ‘They have a problem with that.’”
Higgins said he was escorted to a Red Cross supervisor who asked him to leave.
“I was told that the Red Cross does not allow spiritual counseling in their shelters,” he said. “The supervisor told me the Red Cross is not a religious-based organization and they don’t allow religious interaction with the residents.”
During the conversation, a flood victim asked Higgins to pray. The captain was obliged but had to do so outside the Red Cross shelter.
“Christian compassion was not welcomed there in the manner I had provided,” Higgins told me.
A Red Cross spokesperson told the Baton Rouge Advocate their policy is intended to be respectful of all faiths, “but she said if Higgins had approached managers they would have accommodated him.”
Meanwhile, a pastor in the town of Albany told me that four families left a Red Cross shelter after they were told they could not pray or read their Bibles at their cots.
“They got upset and literally packed up their stuff and came right here,” said the pastor, who asked not to be identified. “A Red Cross worker told them they could not pray or read their Bible in public.”
The pastor said he drove to the shelter in question and he was immediately met with individuals who related similar stories.
“I hadn’t even made it in the door,” the pastor said. “They said the Red Cross workers told them they could not pray or read Bibles. I told them to go to their cot and pray and read. I told them they’re on church property and they could read a Bible on church property.”
I reached out to the American Red Cross and they refuted any notion that they are banning religious activity in their shelters.
“This is simply not true,” spokesperson Elizabeth Penniman said in a statement.
“Those in our shelters are always welcome to pray and gather among themselves,” she said.
Now, you just know the Red Cross is about to drop a great big “however,” right? And here it comes...
“However, we recognize and are sensitive to the fact that hundreds of people from different backgrounds are often sharing a large space with limited privacy,” she added.
For the record, in that part of the state there are more Baptists and Catholics than there are crawfish.
“Through our Spiritual Care program, trained Red Cross workers can provide spiritual care to an array of faiths for the victims and their families to bolster hope and resilience,” Penniman said.
So what about regular folks? Would they be allowed to provide spiritual care?
The Red Cross did not answer that question – but Capt. Higgins did:
“If I wanted to pray with the folks in the shelter, the Red Cross told me I would have to be approved in advance, I would have to fill out the documents and they would set me up at a table. I would not be allowed to leave the table. If people wanted to come to me, they could. But I could not go to them.”
It sounds to me like the Red Cross wants to drown the good people of Louisiana in a bunch of bureaucratic red tape.
The Red Cross, meanwhile, urged me to do my part to “tamp down” the rumors that they are telling people not to pray or read the Bible.
“This is not representative [of] our Red Cross principles,” Penniman said.
So we’ve got the Red Cross telling us one thing and a Baptist preacher, a law enforcement officer and a chaplain telling us something else.
I’m going to let you good readers figure out whose version of events you choose to believe.
But to avoid further confusion, maybe the Red Cross should consider a new symbol and name -- perhaps something a bit more secular.