A federal judge’s ruling declaring unconstitutional an evangelical Christian prison rehabilitation program, paid for by taxpayer dollars could have major implications for President Bush’s faith-based initiative, says the Christian Science Monitor. Judge Robert Pratt found the InnerChange program run by Prison Fellowship Ministries in an Iowa prison “pervasively sectarian” and that the facts “leave no room to doubt that the state of Iowa is excessively entangled with religion” through the program. The judge criticized the lack of real choice on the part of inmates who wanted a similar, nonsectarian option, and the fact that prisoners were offered a variety of special privileges and incentives to join InnerChange, such as better cells and special visitation rights.
At InnerChange, inmates attend mandatory weekly revivals, prayers, worship services, and religion classes that preached Jesus Christ as the sole salvation. In this case, many legal experts agree, Prison Fellowship had crossed the nebulous line governing church-state relations. Law Prof. Ira Lupu of George Washington University says a program that offers a meal and includes a voluntary grace would likely be acceptable, but programs that deal with religious character transformation are problematic. “That’s where you cross the line, if the government is paying for it.” Mike Earley of Prison Fellowship Ministries says the success of his program – which he says has lowered the recidivism rates for people who complete the entire three years of pre- and post-release work, though not for those who drop out – is rooted in a character-transformation strategy that is “Christ-based.”