Coercive Religion in America's Prisons: Unfair Sentence. (Editorials)

Church & State, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Coercive Religion in America's Prisons: Unfair Sentence. (Editorials)


A person's beliefs about religion should be irrelevant to the government.

To borrow a phrase from Thomas Jefferson, whether an American believes in 20 gods or no god is none of the state's concern. The government must never grant preferential treatment on the basis of religious belief. That is a central tenet of American life.

That is also the principle being violated in an Iowa state prison right now. At Newton Correctional Facility, inmates who agree to undergo conversion to fundamentalist Christianity through Charles W. Colson's InnerChange Freedom Initiative get benefits that, behind bars, mean a lot--greater safety, better jobs, free phone calls and bathroom privacy, to name a few.

Iowa's adoption of InnerChange is exactly the type of church-state union that would have horrified Jefferson and James Madison. The government is promoting a program that has religious conversion as its core tenet. People who agree to adopt a certain religious outlook get better treatment from the state.

Americans United is challenging InnerChange in federal court. The program's backers have argued that Iowa isn't paying for the religious aspects of InnerChange. This argument collapses when one examines the materials produced by InnerChange--materials that make it clear that there are no non-religious aspects of InnerChange. The program, the materials boast, is totally subsumed in fundamentalist Christianity "all day, every day. …

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Coercive Religion in America's Prisons: Unfair Sentence. (Editorials)
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