Thank you, statist Christianity

Apparently an Iowa prison is using government funds and power to push Christianity on the inmates.

Prison Fellowship Ministries, a Christian organization, has been hired by the prison to help reform the prisoners. However, it’s been going farther than just trying to get them out of a criminal lifestyle:

Lynn’s group accused Prison Fellowship Ministries of giving preferential treatment to inmates participating in the program. They were given special visitation rights, movie-watching privileges, access to computers and access to classes needed for early parole.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt called the perks “seemingly minor benefits” that constituted unfair treatment to those not in the religious program. Despite any claims of rehabilitating inmates, the program “impermissibly endorses religion,” Pratt wrote.

The InnerChange Freedom Initiative was implemented in Newton in 1999. State prison officials have said they hired the religious group to improve inmate behavior and reduce recidivism “” not promote Christianity.

As for the people behind Prison Fellowship Ministries? They had this to say:

Ministry president Mark Earley said in a statement Friday that the group plans to appeal the ruling and believes its program is constitutional.

“This decision, if allowed to stand, will enshrine religious discrimination,” Earley said. “It has attacked the right of people of faith to operate on a level playing field in the public arena and to provide services to those who volunteered to receive them.”

This is not how it’s supposed to be. First off, there is the issue of the First Amendment banning this, and the Fourteenth Amendment making the First apply to the states. This is not permissible by the Constitution, or any reasonable interpretation of the secular law that governs this nation.

From a Christian perspective, too, this is wrong. Granted, there is a mandate in Scripture for Christians to minister to, among others, those people who are in prison. Matthew 25:34-40:

Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’

And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

Christians are supposed to be ministering to those in prison, but not like this. The hand of government is the hand of coercion, which has no place in a true understanding of Christ. As Christ Himself says in Revelation 3:20:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.

The door to Christ is opened willingly, not because it might get you a shorter sentence or extra perks. Furthermore, Christ disavowed any connection between earthly and spiritual powers in Luke 20:25:

And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

How can this program possibly be doing any good? Is there any prisoner in there that is going to be an honest convert, convicted of his actions and sworn to follow Christ as the Christians behind the program are obviously intending to happen? Or are there just going to be a lot of people who lie to get through the system, making a cosmetic change but holding the entire program at arm’s length because it was forced on them?

If there is really any religious discrimination, Mr. Earley, it comes from you. If there is any aversion to authentic Christianity and the true commands of Christ, it originates from your group, and the state of Iowa that went along with it, not the judge that upheld the law.

Stuart Richards

Stuart Richards is a 26-year-old land surveyor based out of Portland, OR. He is a left-leaning geolibertarian and (theologically) liberal Christian, and has been blogging on HammerofTruth.com and other libertarian sites since 2004.

14 Comments
  1. I saw a TV report (bet you can’t guess which channel) that claimed this was part of a ‘War on Christianity.’ I don’t think anyone wants Christianity banned from prisons, the problem is with the prisoners being rewarded or given special privliges by the govenrment because of their religious behavior. It’s called the “non-establishment clause.”

  2. Only Christianity is capable of being persecuted and discriminated against.

  3. Urgently need a pin to prick dangerously swelling head! Didn’t Bitter Old Punk cop the same crap as Nanny rehabbed him with Christian zeal? (he’s back on line, good to see). For my money, Ceasar can go render himself, I ain’t helpin’!

  4. I render religious services. But I don’t give anybody any preferential favor. I’d see that as an admission that what I offer can’t stand on its own merits.

  5. FEDERAL JUDGE RULES THERE’S NO PLACE

    FOR GOD IN AMERICA’S PRISONS

    “This decision, if allowed to stand, will enshrine religious discrimination.”

    Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley

    MEDIA NOTE: Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley is available today to respond to this federal court ruling. Call Michelle Farmer or Regina Lupoli (770) 813-0000 or (770) 757-4900 (cell)

    VERDICT

    On Friday, a federal district court judge ruled that helping the incarcerated is no place for God. The Hon. Robert Pratt ruled on Friday that InnerChange Freedom Initiative — a faith-based prisoner rehabilitation program begun by Chuck Colson and Prison Fellowship nearly 10 years ago ”“ must shut down in Iowa WITHIN 60 DAYS.

    BACKGROUND

    § The corrections system in America is broken, as evidenced by the fact that of the 2.3 million incarcerated Americans, nearly 700,000 convicted criminals will return to our streets this year and 67 percent will be re-arrested within three years (Bureau of Justice Statistics).

    § Departments of Correction are seeking assistance and asking for cost-effective, values-based programs that reduce recidivism.

    § The InnerChange Freedom Initiative program works and is proving to be effective and cost-effective, as preliminary studies have shown the program to drastically reduce the number of former inmates returning to prison.

    § The InnerChange Freedom Initiative program is entirely voluntary and is open to inmates of any faith or no faith.

    RESPONSE

    “This verdict sends a chilling message to people of faith everywhere. It is our belief that The InnerChange Freedom Initiative is constitutional and well within the framework of the safeguards of the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” said Earley. “We firmly believe that the 8th Circuit will overturn the decision of Judge Pratt and protect the rights of all Americans, even those in prison.”

  6. Sintya: Rephrase that: “No place for god in government.”

    “So the bible says… but it *STILL* is news!”

    Your friendly local sane, spiritual atheist:

  7. Recidivism rates are drastically reduced by the Prison Fellowship program. The program WORKS. Here is a quote from a recent study “inmates who were most active in Bible studies were significantly less likely to be rearrested during the follow-up period.”

    I have heard a little bit about the work that the inmates have to do in the program. It is not simply an easy program to done to get extra rewards. Inmates who don’t like the extra duty usually choose to drop out of the program. The inmates have to do a lot of extra work, and a lot of their lives are changed.

    This is an overtly Christian program, but it is also overtly functional. I just cannot understand why we must kill a program that is so good for the inmates and for society that ends up with fewer repeat offenders.

    Prison Fellowship’s program should be a model for other prisons.

  8. If the program is so effective, why don’t you voluntarily fund it out of Christian love instead of using the coercive force of the state to steal money for this program?

  9. The state should not be forcing anyone to pay for programs like this. If the state wants to allow programs like this to continue, then let the group doing the service fund it themselves. I’m sure many Christians around the country will see this as a good program and help fund this themselves.

  10. Yeah, I’d happily throw some cash to a Christian ministry that wasn’t coercing anyone. We ought to be salt and light in this world, and do Christ’s bidding. Just not through the force of government.

  11. Release every prisoner who did not commit a crime of violence or coercion against a fellow human, and the issue disappears.

    -BM

  12. ERankin–

    I don’t think that the problem was that the program was “Christian”. The way I read the opinion was that it program gave the prison participants in the program benefits that the non-participants did not receive. It is like giving $100 [or insert any other benefit] to people who attend church every Sunday.

    And even if it can be shown that the benefits granted to prisoners under the program increase participation and reduce recidivism among the increased participants, such a result still does not justify the difference in treatment.

    Similarly, if it could be shown that weekly church attendance causes less crime by the attendees, paying people $100 to attend church in an effort to reduce crime would still violate the Constitution.

  13. My husband and I have been mentors with IFI for several years. In response to the reader who asked why Christians don’t fund it – we do. Prison Fellowship uses donations to fund the IFI program, which equals the decrease in State costs for warehouse those men previously. The State funding is ONLY used for the nonsectarian and nonreligious parts of the program. State money is not used to teach inmates about Christianity. Inmates are not “coerced” – they join voluntarily and the program is 24/7. I know many IFI inmates very well and, while there may be some who join for the wrong reason, I have seen God use that wrong motivation to draw the men into relationship with Him. The IFI program has been proven successful and the chances of an IFI graduate returning to prison are 8 to 11% compared to the national average of about 74%. This case will most certainly be overturned on appeal – as it should. IFI is not the problem – it’s a valuable solution to a problem that affects us all.