FFRF helps get humanism into prison system

Humanism is now an officially recognized religion throughout the Virginia prison system after FFRF stepped in and helped out a prisoner there.

Christopher Landeck, a freethinking inmate at Coffeewood Correctional Center in Virginia, contacted FFRF because his prison had meeting options for Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims and a variety of other minority religious groups, but no opportunity for nonreligious inmates to meet and converse about their beliefs.

“Where inmates are demoralized, dehumanized, subjugated and silenced on a daily basis, humanist ideals should help restore the humanity and fill the vacuity that life behind bars carves out of the individual,” Landeck wrote.

Landeck applied to start a humanist study group with equal access to prison chapel resources, but was denied because the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) did not recognize humanism on its list of “Religions Approved to Operate in DOC Facilities.” Because of that, Landeck was being effectively denied the opportunity to meet with like-minded prisoners to discuss his beliefs.

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter to the VADOC in February 2016 to argue for equal access to prison chapel resources for nonreligious inmates. After a back and forth between FFRF and the prison, humanism became an officially recognized religion throughout the Virginia prison system as of June 22. Subsequently, Landeck’s group was also approved at Coffeewood Correctional.

“Thanks to FFRF, we have the ability to offer an alternative lifestance for inmates not affiliated with traditional religions and nonbelievers that only attend religious services in order to feel part of something larger than themselves, ” Landeck wrote to FFRF. “Freethinking inmates are now excited to be able to organize into groups of like-minded individuals to talk about substantive issues of the day, philosophy, art and culture, and most importantly, a productive secular life after prison.
Inmates who adopt a worldview of inclusiveness will find themselves in a much healthier paradigm and better prepared for re-entry into society.”

With a humanist study group now operating at the prison, the participants are eager for educational materials about atheism and freethought. So FFRF Co-President Dan Barker and FFRF agreed to donate 11 books to the prison chapel library so that all inmates have access to nonreligious views.

“It is our sincerest wish that these books will help enlighten many inmates on what it means to be ‘good without God’ and inspire them to lead a purpose-filled life,” Barker wrote to Chaplain Burke at the facility. The donated books were written by Barker (Life Drive Purpose, The Good Atheist, Godless, God: The Most Unpleasant Character in Fiction), FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor (Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So, Women without Superstition: ‘No Gods — No Masters’) and FFRF founder Anne Nicol Gaylor (Lead Us Not Into Penn Station), among others.

If you would like to donate books or other materials in “new” condition to the humanism group at the prison, please send them, along with a list of their titles and retail values, to:

Chaplain Burke
Coffeewood Correctional Center
P.O. Box 500
Mitchells, VA 22729-0500

Freedom From Religion Foundation