Saturday, December 9, 2006

One prison under God: In Iowa, a state court recently struck down a prison's program offering better housing conditions and better food to members of a religious quasi-congregation which proselytized to inmates. The specific debate was on First Amendment grounds; but, to be perfectly clear, it seems to me that religious conversion isn't part of the penal code and shouldn't be. (There was a "Law Order" episode about that.) The Times says:

Not all programs in prisons are so narrowly focused. Florida now has three prisons that offer inmates, who must ask to be housed there, more than two dozen offerings ranging from various Christian denominations to Orthodox Judaism to Scientology. But at Newton, Judge Pratt found, there were few options — and no equivalent programs — without religious indoctrination.

"The state has literally established an Evangelical Christian congregation within the walls of one of its penal institutions, giving the leaders of that congregation, i.e., InnerChange employees, authority to control the spiritual, emotional and physical lives of hundreds of Iowa inmates," Judge Pratt wrote. "There are no adequate safeguards present, nor could there be, to ensure that state funds are not being directly spent to indoctrinate Iowa inmates."

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