Ohio Prison Chaplain Loses Gay Choir Leader Fight

A federal appeals court has supported Ohio correctional officials’ reprimand of a prison chaplain who barred a gay inmate from leading the choir.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Chaplain Wil­liam Akridge’s lawsuit that claimed his First Amendment rights were violated when corrections officials reprimanded him for refusing to allow a gay inmate to lead a choir at religious services.

In spring 2002, Akridge became a full-time chaplain at Ohio’s Madison Correctional Institution. Not long after arriving at the post, Akridge was approached by an inmate who wanted to play music during Protestant services. Akridge told the inmate he did not mind the group playing music at the services, as long as the inmates did not play “pagan music.”

The prisoner then accused Akridge of acting with hostility toward him because he is gay. According to court documents, the chaplain responded, “I didn’t know you are gay. But since you tell me you are gay, then that is reason enough for you not to…lead the band.”

The inmate filed a complaint with state correctional officials, launching an investigation. The deputy prison warden told Akridge to give the inmate the opportunity to be one of the choir directors. The chaplain refused and was subsequently fined two days’ pay. He then voluntarily transferred to another prison.

A three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit found that the interests of the corrections officials in upholding non-discrimination policies outweighed any restrictions on Akridge’s constitutional rights. (Akridge v. Wilkinson)