Politics

3 States Wrong to Consider 'Christians-Only' Prison Scheme

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Church-State Watchdog Group Warns Corrections Departments About Constitutional Dangers Of Proposed Sectarian Facility

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today warned corrections officials in three states not to use public funds to send inmates to a proposed “Christians-only” prison in Oklahoma.

Corrections Concepts, Inc., has proposed building a private prison in Wakita, Okla., that will indoctrinate prisoners in fundamentalist Christianity and will be staffed solely with “born-again” Christians.

The Dallas, Texas-based firm recently announced that discussions are under way with corrections officials in Oklahoma, Kansas and California about signing contracts to house prisoners. In response, attorneys with Americans United wrote to officials in the three states, advising them that using public funds to send inmates to the sectarian facility would likely spark legal action.

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Americans United asserts it would be unconstitutional for government to support a prison that indoctrinates inmates in one faith and limits hiring based on religion.

“Taxpayers should never be forced to support religious indoctrination,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “This scheme is fraught with constitutional problems, and no state should subsidize it.”

In letters to corrections officials, AU attorneys pointed out that a federal appeals court in 2007 struck down public funding of an evangelical Christian program at an Iowa prison. The Christian prison in Oklahoma, they say, would likely meet the same fate.

“If the Department were to provide funding to Corrections Concepts’ prison, indoctrination would be the inevitable result…,” Americans United asserted. “And, just as inevitably, the funding of such indoctrination would violate the Constitution.”

The AU letters to Oklahoma, Kansas and California were signed by Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and AU Staff Attorney Ian Smith.

Corrections Concepts founder Bill Robinson told the Tulsa World recently that the bonding company that has expressed interest in financing the project will not provide funds until states agree to send 285 prisoners to the facility, which is expected to have more than 600 beds.

Robinson first proposed the facility last year. At that time, Americans United wrote to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and advised it not to back the scheme. Officials there replied that they had no interest in the project. But Robinson now says he has an expression of interest from the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs.

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.