|AJC Hails Court Decision on Iowa State Prison Religion Program|
December 4, 2007 – New York – The American Jewish Committee praised today a decision by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals that funding of an evangelical Christian rehabilitation program at an Iowa state prison with taxpayer dollars is a violation of the separation of church and state.
“Any program that gives preferential treatment to some inmates solely because they agree to engage in religious indoctrination is bad public policy, and is unconstitutional,” said Jeffrey Sinensky, AJC’s general counsel. “The government should not be involved in promoting any particular faith, particularly through a program underwritten with taxpayer dollars.”
AJC filed an amicus brief in the case, Americans United for Separation of Church and State v. Prison Fellowship Ministries, arguing that the state’s “subsidy of a sect’s religious proselytizing plainly endorses one religion, coerces its observance, and discriminates against those who wish to follow other faiths (or no faith at all).”
In a unanimous decision joined by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner (sitting on the panel by designation), the court found that the Project InnerChange program, created and operated by Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries, “was dominated by Bible study, Christian classes, religious revivals, and church services.”
Inmates in the program were transferred to a more comfortable facility, wear different clothes then the rest of the prison population, have increased visitation rights and earn “treatment credits” needed for early parole.
“Government institutions should honor and promote our nation’s religious diversity, not impose one religious faith on prisoners who are all in need of rehabilitation services,” said Sinensky.
AJC has been a historic defender of church/state seperation, and fights for the rights of all inmates to practice their religion while incarcerated. Earlier this year, AJC took the lead in urging the Federal Bureau of Prisons to reconsider its policy of limiting access to religious texts.