PRAYER IN PRISONS NOW UNCONSTITUTIONAL
Evangelical? If you run a soup kitchen, prison
ministry, or a home for the mentally disabled, to stay operational you’ll need to rethink — or hide — that
label if U.S. District Judge Robert W. Pratt’s ruling against Prison Fellowship Ministries’ InnerChange is allowed
to stand. Otherwise, it could very well cost your ministry a lot of money in punitive damages, or even completely shut down
A great deal of Judge Pratt’s negative ruling
centers on his own concocted definition of evangelical Christianity, said Mark Earley, president of Prison Fellowship (PFM).
“His (Pratt’s) definition will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, because of the erroneous nature
of his definition and its caricature-like quality.”
to Judge Pratt’s definition, you’ll be surprised to learn that Evangelicals:
to be anti-sacramental, which means it downplays the traditional sacramental Christian events — baptism, holy communion
or Eucharist, marriage, ordination, etc. — as appropriate ways to interact or meet with God… Whereas traditional,
organized religious groups, such as Roman Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, and Lutherans, employ a structured, highly liturgical
style of worship, Evangelical Christian worship is free form with individual pastors given authority to determine how services
are planned. For instance, Evangelical Christians have embraced contemporary music forms and multi-media presentations”
(Case 4:03-cv-90074-RP-TJS Document 367).
that mean contemporary music and multi-media presentations may threaten the constitutionality of charitable programs? It appears
so, if Judge Pratt’s ruling is allowed to stand.
Prison Fellowship and InnerChange belief in the substitutionary and atoning death of Jesus, which reflects a legalistic understanding
of the sacrifice of Jesus, likewise, is not shared by many Christians… Belief in the literal, bodily resurrection of
Jesus is also not shared by many other, non-Evangelical Christians… Belief in an imminent, personal, and visible second
coming of Jesus Christ, as held by Prison Fellowship and InnerChange, does not comport with the belief held by other non-Evangelical
Christians that, if a second coming of Christ occurs, its nature is unknown, or is more spiritualized” (Case 4:03-cv-90074-RP-TJS
possibly most egregious of all Evangelical activities, Pratt ruled - by definition of what is believed - everything they do
is construed to convert someone and is therefore unconstitutional.
Pratt’s ruling came about because of a suit
filed in U. S. District Court in Iowa by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a self-proclaimed Washington
D.C. “liberty watchdog group,” against PFM and InnerChange specifically.
InnerChange is a highly structured program run
by PFM in ten states that receives tax dollars to educate prisoners academically as well as help with job placement and life
skills. It is proven by a study (2004 University of Pennsylvania Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society)
to dramatically reduce recidivism. While tax monies are used for non-sectarian purposes, 60 percent of InnerChange’s
budget is made up of donations. But the heart of the suit is InnerChange’s bedrock principal that real change comes
through the teachings of Jesus Christ, which is now ruled to be a disqualifier for faith-based initiative dollars.
Said Earley: “If this definition is allowed
to stand, others — lawyers and courts — can define Evangelical Christianity in an erroneous and caricature-ish
way ‘as trying to convert someone,’ and set the stage for any evangelical ministry in any setting connected with
the government -- whether a soup kitchen or a home for the mentally disabled, Salvation Army, or the services provided by
Catholic Charities to adults in public institutions that have requested religious services -- to be ruled against anytime
there is a challenge to the establishment clause.”
In a groundbreaking move, to add more teeth to
his ruling and further discourage Evangelical-faith-based partnerships, Pratt has ruled that InnerChange must reimburse $1.5
million to the state of Iowa and that the program be discontinued.
But the use of tax money by an Evangelical group
does not seem to be Pratt’s bedrock complaint – that is religion et al.
“Even if this program in Iowa was fully funded by private dollars,” said Earley, “in Pratt’s opinion
it would be unconstitutional. This has far-ranging ramifications for any religious group. We’re providing religious
services and ministry to prisoners. But his ruling means that no one can provide religious services to anyone in a governmental
setting, even if it is fully funded by private dollars.”
In essence, the same federal courts that took
religion out of the schools are now determined to take religion — and hope — out of prisons. There is hope that
Pratt’s ruling will be reversed upon appeal. If it is, it will be the only way prisoners in America will have a prayer.