FFRF Lawsuit Halts Federal Faith Prison Program

In a major victory, a Freedom From Religion Foundation lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons has caused it to cancel a proposal to open at least five single faith” programs at federal penitentiaries. The Bureau posted a short announcement at its website on Oct. 26 that “it is determined to be in the best interest of the government to cancel” the plan.

The Bureau had suspended calls for solicitations to run “single-faith” programs after the Foundation filed a federal challenge on May 4.

“Our lawsuit has averted an egregious First Amendment violation,” noted Foundation co-president Dan Barker.

The Foundation lawsuit will proceed, since it is still challenging the constitutionality of ongoing “multifaith” programs set up by the Bureau.

The Bureau of Prisons’ 18-month Life Connections Program, instigated by the Department of Justice Task Force for Faith-based and Community Initiatives, has been operating since at least 2003. Created by Bureau Chaplain Kendall Hughes, it was designed as a faith-based model based “on the premise that inmates should pursue, nurture and commit themselves to religious faith.”

Implemented by the Religious Services Branch of the Bureau of Prisons, Life Connections is operating in at least five federal institutions: the Federal Correctional Institution at Milan, Mich.; the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan.; the Federal Medical Center at Carswell, Texas; the Federal Correctional Institution at Petersburg, Va., and the Federal Correctional Institution at Victorville, Calif.

The lawsuit is also challenging OMB’s system of rating Cabinet agencies for funding faith-based groups.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin, names Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales; Federal Bureau of Prisons director Harley G. Lappin, and Clay Johnson III, director, Office of Management and Budget.

Plaintiffs include the Freedom From Religion Foundation (a national state/church watchdog group of freethinkers, atheists and agnostics), co-presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, and founder Anne Nicol Gaylor.

Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Gonzales, Case No. 06-C-0244-S, has been assigned to Judge John Shabaz, U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin.

Freedom From Religion Foundation