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Iowa court ruling: No tax dollars to be spent on prison rehab rooted in religion

scales_of_justice.jpgThe State of Iowa captured the attention of the nation recently with the vigorous political campaigns within their borders.

Day after exhausting day this mid-western state was daily on TV and in the news. It overshadowed and neglected a recent but equally newsworthy event, yet this eclipsed event deserves an equally careful hearing and analysis.

The issue: a judgment by the 8th Circuit Court.

Americans United [for Separation of Church and State] won a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Iowa Corrections Department’s support for Charles Colson’s InnerChange, a prison program that trains inmates in evangelical Christianity.

“Faith-based” initiatives, which propose turning the provision of social services over to religious groups, threaten individual rights and could lead to taxpayer support of religious ministries. In those cases where religious groups want to take tax aid to provide relief, they should first agree to run secular programs and drop all forms of religiously based discrimination from their hiring policies.” — Americans United for Separation of Church and State

This Iowa court rendered a profound, sharp and ringing endorsement on on religion and the use of tax-dollars to support and subsidize the “Inner Change Freedom Initiative” [ICFI] in Iowa prisons.

The ICFI’s mission, with a fundamentalist indoctrination tenet, inclination and proclivity, is to minister to prisoners. Perhaps you already know that Charles Colson of Watergate fame [and a convicted criminal] is the author and presenter of this type of evangelizing and proselytizing program. While the program of ICFI is admissible to reduce recidivism among inmates, the use of tax dollars to accomplish it is in conflict with the U.S. Constitution. Evidence at the trial showed that the ICFI in Iowa disparaged Catholics and their staff members declared that Catholics were not Christians. The non-evangelical Christians didn’t escape scathing criticism either. Again, the staff referred to them as lost, pagan and those who serve the flesh.”

The ICFI is free to publicly endorse their own religious beliefs and publicly degrade the religious beliefs and faith of others. But in their prison ministry they received tax dollar support and special benefits to carry out this discriminatory outreach.

After the hearings and pronouncements by three judges, one prophetic voice summarized the significance of the ruling when he stated “I expected the decision to have a huge impact in support of our own fight to combat federal and state officials’ efforts to expand taxpayer funding of religious social services … and to halt the expansion of government aided religious ‘rehabilitation’ programs in prison more specifically.”

Whatever our faith — Baptist, Lutherans, Christians, Presbyterians — let us as U.S. citizens protect the U.S. Constitution. There are efforts to funnel our tax dollars to faith groups who in turn discriminate in their hiring and try to use social services and programs to push a personal religious agenda. With vigilance and courage to confront such efforts, the state of Tennessee will avoid such sectarian goals.

Rev. Charles Moreland
Rev. Charles Moreland
Rev. Charles Moreland, retired, has lived in Clarksville for seven years and holds great pride in his adopted city and its people. His one objection in Tennessee is the Hall law of taxes on dividends and savings. Charles served in the U.S. Army Chaplaincy from 1966-1986, retiring to serve as a United Methodist pastor near Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He serves on the Boards of Directors for the ARP, Roxy Theater and MCDP. Though retired, he is a regular speaker at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. His five grandchildren, ages two to thirteen years, live in Evansville, Indiana. He is a veteran of the Vietnam War and served in Germany and Korea while on active duty.


  1. I apologize for just getting to your article. It’s a very timely story. The significance of which is rightly as you point out, major.

    The ICIF program was clearly violating the Constitutional prohibitions against state sponsored religion. The disparaging of other religious sects is very troubling in and of itself. Not very Christain, imho.

    Social work in such challenging conditions is undoubtedly difficult. However, crippling the mind with a demented religious fervor doesn’t serve the prisoner nor society well.

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