Prison Religion: Faith-Based Reform and the Constitution

Prison Religion: Faith-Based Reform and the Constitution

Prison Religion: Faith-Based Reform and the Constitution

Prison Religion: Faith-Based Reform and the Constitution

Excerpt

What is the faithin “faith-based”? After ten years of public policy promoting the greater integration of faith-based organizations into the ranks of government funded social service providers, the nature and role of faith in this effort remains elusive. This book takes a close look at a recent trial concerning one such faith-based provider with a view to understanding better what faith-based reform is about and why so many Americans think it makes sense.

In December 2006, in Des Moines, Iowa, a U.S. District Court judge found unconstitutional a faith-based, in-prison rehabilitation program operating in the Newton Facility of the Iowa Department of Corrections, a program known as InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI). The lawsuit, brought by Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), had complained that the contract governing the rehabilitation program— an agreement between the State of Iowa and Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM)—constituted “a law respecting an establishment of religion,” and was, thus, in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. After the decision, pending appeals, IFI continued to operate in the Iowa prison without state cash reimbursement—the state discontinued funding in June 2007—although it continued to receive in-kind aid. Approximately a year after the District Court's decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit found Prison Fellowship Ministries at the Iowa prison to be acting “under color of state law” in a program of conversion and discrimination. The Iowa Department of Corrections finally terminated its contract with InnerChange on March 10, 2008. (IFI programs are currently present in the prisons of five other states: Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Texas. Private faith-based prison programs managed by other religious groups also exist in many states. Some states, including Florida, have initiated their own state-run, in-prison, faith-based programs. Because of variations in contracting arrangements, the effect of the Iowa court's decision on these other programs remains unclear.)

AU v. PFM is acknowledged to be one of the most significant recent court cases considering the application of the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to the new “faith-based” social services. A legal and social climate substantially more hospitable to government/religion partnership than in the recent past has made possible an increase in the number of government contracts with private, “faith-

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