Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Religion Clauses

The Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment often come into conflict. Sometimes it is hard to make a policy that allows for free exercise that does not respect the establishment of religion. Sometimes it is hard to prevent the government from respecting the establishment of religion without hampering someone's free exercise.

This is not one of those situation.

Iowa prison officials have permitted a religious group at the Newton correction Facility "to take over an entire unit and to turn it into an evangelical Christian church," a lawyer contended Monday.

Inmates can be accepted into the Newton prison rehabilitation program "only by being subjected to religious indoctrination," said Alex Luchenitser, representing American United for Separation of Church and State of Washington, D.C.

His group is suing Iowa prison officials and Virginia-based Prison Fellowship Ministries, contending the program, known as the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, unconstitutionally represents a merger of state and religion.

More here:

A Christian prison program subsidized by the state is discriminatory, giving preferential treatment to inmates who enroll, a lawyer for an advocacy group argued Monday.

Participants live in a special unit that is more like a college dorm than a prison, with separate bathrooms and doors that are unlocked by keys given to inmates, Luchenitser said.

They get special visits from family members and are guaranteed jobs and access to computers, benefits other inmates may not have access to.

InnerChange inmates receive classes required for early parole while inmates not enrolled in the program have to wait to take the classes, Luchenitser said.

They receive in-house discipline, which Luchenitser said "makes misconduct invisible to the Board of Parole."

Inmates who don't subscribe to the "evangelical teachings" of Innerchange "are treated badly" and expelled from the program, he said.

This is EXACTLY what the framers of the establishment clause were trying to prevent. If there were a program that rewarded prisoners for rejection the notion of god (a far more noble goal) the religious right would be in uproar and citing the First Amendment left and right.

2 comments:

Brian Hagedorn said...

Actually, 9 of the original 13 colonies had official state religions when the first amendment was crafted. Even Mr. Separation of Church & State Thomas Jefferson hired a chaplain to evangelize the Indians. The framers, as an historical matter, would have had no problem with this voluntary program.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

As a historical matter, you are wrong. 9 of the 13 colonies did have official religions butthat says nothing about whether the framers of the constitution thought it was a good idea to allow government support for religion. It says even less about what the framers of the 14th amendment thought. This is a case where you have to look no further than the text. This is quite plainly government respecting the establishment of religion. It is showing preference to religion over no religion. If this doesn't violate the 1st and 14th amendments Brian, what would?