Get Out of Jail with God

Mark Bergen, KtB circulation manager and writer, has a piece over on Religion Dispatches today. Responding to gutted state and federal budgets, the religious right is stepping into America’s prisons, Bible in hand. Does the First Amendment stop on the other side of the bars?

For decades, Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM) has placed its volunteers inside prison walls to minister directly to inmates. In addition to questions about the programs’ effectiveness, such partnerships with state institutions have drawn legal challenges. InnerChange, a PFM program inside correctional facilities, was shut down by the state of Iowa in 2008 after Americans United for the Separation of Church and State won a legal challenge to its constitutionality. AU charged, and the court agreed, that InnerChange, which received government funding, required inmate participants “to attend Bible study, Christian classes, and church services,” in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Alex Luchenitser, the lead litigator for Americans United in the case, wrote in a legal journal, “Inmates who did not subscribe to the program’s religious teachings faced discrimination and pressure to convert.”

One of his sources tells Mark: “The wall that separates the state and the church, has to come down to help people.” Read the whole article here.