Americans United Files Request For Public Records On New 'faith-based' Prison In Florida

Watchdog Group Seeks Information To See If Constitutional Requirements Are Being Met

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has filed a freedom-of-information request with the Florida Department of Corrections to learn more about the state's new "faith-based" prison.

At the behest of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Lawtey Correctional Institute has been converted into a "faith-based" prison. The new approach was officially kicked off during a Dec. 24 dedication ceremony that featured a Roman Catholic mass and speeches by Bush and several clergy members.

Americans United says the "faith-based" approach to corrections raises constitutional concerns.

"This program is very troubling," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "We need to get all of the facts to see whether this prison is being run in accordance with the U.S. and Florida constitutions."

Lynn said state officials have sometimes made conflicting claims about the role religion will play in the facility. He said Americans United filed the freedom-of-information request to get to the bottom of the matter.

"We need to find out exactly what is going on at Lawtey," said Lynn.

In a Jan. 9 letter to the Florida Department of Corrections Office of General Counsel, AU attorneys requested copies of numerous documents relating to the prison, including copies of contracts between the state and religious groups; any documents released to inmates describing the facility; correspondence to department employees that concerns the prison and any documents relating to the source of funding of the religious aspects of the prison's programs.

The request is based on sections of Florida state law that concern public records and is made on behalf of nearly 3,500 Americans United members in Florida.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.