No Ministering to Prisoners

The Christian-purging mentality has also manifested itself in objections to faith-based Christian charities. It doesn't matter if the state doesn't favor faith-based charities over secular ones; a complete ban is demanded.

Faith Works is a faith-based organization that ministers to prison inmates, providing treatment and rehabilitation for those addicted to alcohol and illegal drugs. The Wisconsin Department of Correction's parole conditions sometime include attending treatment programs for drug or alcohol abuse. Faith Works is one of six organizations (the other five are secular) that the department of corrections may recommend for an inmate, but an inmate is free to choose whichever one he wants. Standing against Faith Works is FFRF, which strongly objected to the use of state funds to pay for the treatment programs of those prisoners who chose Faith Works-which, incidentally, has established a successful track record. In filing suit in federal court to prevent Faith Works' alleged violation of the Establishment Clause, FFRF was challenging two funding streams to Faith Works-a grant from the Department of Workforce Development and a contract with the Department of Corrections. On January 7, 2002, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb ruled in favor of the FFRF on the claim pertaining to the Department of Workforce Development's grant to Faith Works." FFRF applauded the court for invalidating what the group called a "wrongful and unconstitutional" expenditure of government funds "to make possible a ministry devoted to bringing 'homeless addicts to Christ."

It turns out that FFRF's jubilation was premature. In a later order, on July 26, 2002, Judge Crabb ruled in favor of Faith Works on the claim pertaining to the funding stream from the Department of Corrections. Judge Crabb found that "offenders participate in the program as a result of their genuinely independent, private choice," and "thus, any appearance that the government is endorsing Faith Works is overcome by the fact that offenders must consent to the program's religious content before participating in it."

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in favor of Faith Works, holding that the state's use of its program does not violate the Establishment Clause. The court's decision seemed to turn on the fact that the prisoners have a choice among programs, including secular ones. The court noted that "parole officers have recommended Faith Works to some parolees, but have been careful to explain that it is a non-binding recommendation and that Faith Works is a Christian institution and its program of rehabilitation has a significant Christian element. Parole officers who recommend Faith Works are required to offer the offender a secular halfway house as an alternative. And although Faith Works will enroll an offender even if he is not a Christian, a parole officer will not recommend Faith Works to an offender who has no Christian identity and religious interest and will not advise anyone to convert to Christianity in order to get the most out of Faith Works." The state, said the court, may not require offenders to enroll. "The choice must be private, to provide insulating material between government and religion. It is private; it is the offender's choice."

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