Constitutional Law

State-Funded Prisoner Religion Program Tossed

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A federal appeals court has ruled that a state-financed program that seeks to rehabilitate prisoners through Christian ideals violates the establishment clause.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State had challenged the program run by InnerChange, a group affiliated with Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship that operates in six states, Christianity Today reports. All InnerChange programs are now privately funded, the New York Times reports.

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was sitting by designation on the panel of the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that decided the case.

The opinion (PDF) said prisoners are not coerced to join the group and do not receive reduced sentences for participation. However participants got better privileges, such as family visits, and could not participate unless they accepted a “Christian-based” program.

Law professor Robert Tuttle of George Washington University told the Times that the decision is the latest in a series to bar government from spending taxpayer money to promote religion.

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