Inmates at the only women’s prison in Kansas are being force-fed Christianity, according to a lawsuit by a convicted murderer who has spent the past 23 years in the state’s prison system. Shari Webber-Dunn, convicted in 1994 of the murder of her estranged husband, says in a federal lawsuit filed last week that inmates at the Topeka Correctional Facility are subjected to an endless profusion of Christian imagery and propaganda. She cited the prison’s 8-foot wooden cross, Christian-themed radio and television broadcasts, and housing units saturated with proselytizing messages, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.
Webber-Dunn, a practicing Thelemite, alleges religious bias in the “oppressive message that Christianity looms over the inmates at all times.” (Thelemites worship a number of deities, primarily a trio adapted from ancient Egyptian religion.) The American Humanist Association’s legal center in Washington, D.C., filed the lawsuit last week, asserting inmates’ constitutional rights were violated by the state government’s coercive religious atmosphere and pressure to participate in Christian activities. The association champions the causes of atheists and others, which include attempts to restrain government from impinging on the First Amendment standard of separation of church and state. “Prisons are not exempt from the Constitution and prisoners do not lose the shield from state-sponsored religion provided by the Establishment Clause,” said David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association. The lawsuit emerged while Gov. Sam Brownback awaits Senate confirmation as an international ambassador of religious freedom in the Trump administration. Brownback has touted reduction in recidivism rates among state prisoners who participated in a faith-based mentoring program.