Proposed ‘Christian’ Prison Raises Legal Concerns, Says Americans United

Oklahoma corrections officials must not support a proposed “Christian” prison with public funds, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has warned.

In a Nov. 18 letter to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Americans United attorneys said the U.S. Constitution prohibits public aid for worship and religious instruction. Thus, public funds for Corrections Concepts’ Christian-themed prison would violate the First Amendment.

According to news media accounts, sponsors say the Wakita, Okla., prison will hire only Christian staff and inmates will be required to participate in a Christ-centered curriculum.

The AU letter noted that the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against a similar religious program in Iowa in its 2007 Americans United v. Prison Fellowship Ministries decision.

“If the Department provides funding to Corrections Concepts’ prison,” Americans United attorneys insisted, “indoctrination will be the inevitable result, just as it was in Prison Fellowship Ministries. And, just as inevitably, the funding of such indoctrination will violate the Constitution.”

The letter was signed by Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, AU Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser and AU Staff Attorney Ian Smith.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, says the issues at stake are critically important.

“It is wrong for government to take taxpayers’ money and spend it on religious indoctrination,” Lynn said. “That’s a violation of the fundamental rights of every American.

“I strongly believe that inmates should have access to religious services of their own choosing,” he continued, “but government should never favor one faith over others or coerce inmates to participate in religion.”