States Must Not Sponsor Prison Proselytism, AU Tells Civil Rights Commission

Article excerpt

Government must refrain from sponsoring prison programs that promote religious conversion or coercion, Americans United for Separation of Church and State told the U.S. Civil Rights Commission last month.

Alex J. Luchenitser, AU senior litigation counsel, successfully led Americans United's legal challenge to Prison Fellowship's "InnerChange Freedom Initiative" at an Iowa prison. During his remarks, Luchenitser briefed commission members on the case and outlined the problems with state-sponsored prison proselytism.

InnerChange, Luchenitser said in his Feb. 8 testimony, was pervaded with evangelical Christianity. As a result, he said, prisoners of other faiths had to listen to their religions being criticized and were urged to convert.

Luchenitser cited testimony during the trial from Roman Catholic inmates who testified about their experiences. One man said an InnerChange volunteer insisted a pope would be the Antichrist. Another said he was told to stop reading the Catholic version of the Bible. Other inmates were barred from saying Catholic prayers.

Despite the program's heavy sectarian emphasis, InnerChange offered benefits like substance-abuse treatment classes, quicker access to parole and more visits with family members. …