Religion in the prisons

A federal appeals court ruling striking down an in-prison evangelical Christian program in Iowa, may not affect a program in Minnesota, even though it’s run by the same organization.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled that the program in Iowa violates the Constitution because it used state money, and because inmates who participated at the Newton facility had to accept a Christian-based program. (See court ruling)

That, the panel said, “advanced or endorsed religion.” The suit was filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In Iowa, 104 inmates took part in the InnerChange program sponsored by Prison Fellowship Ministries. The same organization runs a program at the Lino Lakes prison. As of last week, 180 prisoners participated, according to the group.

The program is also in use at the women’s prison in Shakopee, where 22 women are involved.

“This gives us some additional guidance and clarity to meet the constitutional test,” said Mark Early, the Prison Fellowship Ministries president.

Minnesota, up until last year, funded 20 percent of the program. It is now privately funded, according to Early. Listen to my interview with him (Real Audio).

All Things Considered host Tom Crann talked to Joan Fabian, Minnesota’s corrections commissioner about the ruling.

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