Sometimes my copy of the Weekly Standard arrives late, as in the same day as the next weekly issue, so I get two of them. So I am late in reading Robert P. George's and Gerard Bradley's "Barring Faith: A federal judge strikes down prison ministries" in the July 17 issue.
It's about the recent federal district court ruling against Prison Fellowship Ministry's program in an Iowa prison. PFM's affiliated Inner-Change Freedom Initiative (IFI) contracted with the state of Iowa to run a voluntary program in one prison, a program that Warden Terry Mapes said "is the thing we hope [in] corrections will make a difference." He got, he said, "a substance abuse program, ... a victim impact program, ... a computer education program." The bottom line is rehabilitation.
While the court found "no evidence" that promoting religion was the intent of the program, the authors note that Judge Pratt's "sprawling and undisciplined opinion" concludes startlingly that
Prison Fellowship and IFI are, in fact, "state actors," and thus are no more permitted to espouse Christianity than is the state of Iowa.
So any time a faith-based organization does anything that the state has, or claims, interest in--such as reducing recividism--the organization must be secular. If healthcare is in the state interest, then Catholic hospitals must be owned and operated by a secular Catholic Church? Orphanages?
Further, despite unamimous testimony, even on the part of prisoners, that the program was entirely voluntary, the judge dismissed the program as coercive because prisons themselves are "inherently coercive environments."
Finally, write George and Bradley, the most important part of the ruling
undermines the very concept of faith-based social services provided at public expense. The Iowa court said that there is "no set of circumstances under which state funds could support the transformational values-based treatment methods employed in the Inner-Change Program." . . . Accoring to Judge Pratt's logic, if religion is an integral component of a provider's programs, then that provider may under no circumstances receive government grants.
George, who knows a few things about constitutional law, calls the ruling "appalling". To add insult to injury, the judge also ruled that Prison Fellowship, for its IFI offense committed in that Iowa prison, in the authors' words,
must repay all the money expended at the Newton facility--despite the fact that Prison Fellowship won its contract in a fair competitive bidding process and fully delivered the services it had agreed to provide. In effect, then, IFI and Prison Fellowship are being fined $1.7 million for the sin of violating a Constitution that exists only in the mind of Judge Pratt.
Fined for helping prisoners turn their lives around? Outrageous.