A federal court in Iowa rejected the claim that the employment of a full-time chaplain at a public hospital violated the first amendment's nonestablishment of religion clause.
The court acknowledged that a public hospital's employment of a chaplain violated the nonestablishment of religion clause, but concluded that such a practice was validated by the first amendment's other religion clause (guaranteeing the free exercise of religion). The court referred to decisions upholding the constitutionality of military and prison chaplains. Like military personnel and prison inmates, hospital patients often are isolated and restricted in the exercise of their religion.
The provision of a chaplain in all of these cases , concluded the court, is necessary to ensure that the constitutional right to freely exercise one's religion is protected. However, the court cautioned that the hospital chaplain's activities could not be unrestricted. The court held that the chaplain could not actively proselytize; counsel with employees, outpatients, or families not in the hospital for emergencies or "death-bed watches"; or have access to patients' medical records without the express approval of the patient or a guardian. Carter v. Broadlawn Medical Center, 667 F. Supp. 1269 (S.D. Iowa 1987)