Last month's federal court decision declaring unconstitutional a prison ministry run by Prison Fellowship has placed the status of other faith-based initiatives in question. Fallout for other Christian social services is limited for now while Prison Fellowship appeals the ruling. The appeals process could reach the Supreme Court.
In 1999, the state of Iowa partnered with InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a biblically based rehabilitation program designed by Prison Fellowship (PF), to reduce recidivism rates. Inmates from nine state prisons are eligible to apply for a transfer into the two- to three-year program.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt issued his verdict in a 140-page decision following a three-year trial that included a personal visit to the facilities of the disputed program. He ordered InnerChange to disband within 60 days and return about $1.5 million in funding it had received from the state of Iowa.
PF president Mark Earley said the organization is preparing to post bond and file an appeal with the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he is confident the judgment will be overturned. PF says that advocates of InnerChange and its upcoming appeal include Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Ted Haggard, James Dobson, and Rick Warren.
Earley said Pratt overstepped his constitutional bounds by ruling the program unconstitutional even if it accepted no state funds. Earley said the judge ignored the voluntary nature of InnerChange, which allows inmates to quit without punishment. "Based on this judge's ruling, the only way to improve this program is to move it out of the prison," said Earley. "And there are not many escapees that we can minister to."
Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) filed the lawsuit in ...