Interested inmates at Iowa’s Newton Correctional Facility receive material that declares: “Criminal behavior is a manifestation of an alienation between the self and God. Acceptance of God and Biblical principles results in cure through the power of the Holy Spirit. Transformation happens through an instantaneous miracle; it then builds the prisoner up with familiarity of the Bible.” Rooted in evangelical Christianity and supported by more than $1.5 million in public funds, the program’s constitutionality is being reviewed by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit that includes former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the Washington Post reports.
Antagonists in the dispute say the outcome could influence the future of President Bush’s faith-based initiative, which links government and religious institutions in efforts to solve social problems. “This puts into jeopardy not just faith-based nonprofits in a prison setting,” said Mark Earley, president of Virginia-based Prison Fellowship Ministries, whose affiliate, the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, runs the Iowa program. Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which won a lower-court ruling to stop the program, said a court defeat for InnerChange “could well be the death knell for these kinds of programs, whether they’re funded by state or federal money.”