Religious sermons canceled in Missouri jail (November 2023)

The Newton County Jail in Missouri will not feature religious services without accommodations after FFRF took action.

A former inmate reported that on April 23 at Newton County Jail, two Christian clergy members were allowed to enter the block where the complainant was being held to deliver an explicitly Protestant Christian sermon. New inmates, such as the complainant, were not informed that the sermon would be happening nor were they given the option to opt-out of attending. The sermon occurred in the block’s common area and the complainant, who is an atheist, had no way of exiting the block.

The complainant also stated that there was only one intercom in the block that inmates could use to communicate with jail authorities, and that intercom was located in the block’s common area. The complainant felt that they could not safely use the intercom to ask to be held in a different location for the duration of the sermon because other inmates would inevitably overhear their request. Some of the inmates were known to be violent and had fundamentalist Christian iconography tattoos. The complainant reasonably feared that if they openly admitted to being an atheist in front of the other inmates they could be attacked.

FFRF Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to Sheriff Chris Jennings, who informed FFRF that “religious services have been suspended until such time that accommodations can be made to separate them from anyone not wanting to attend.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation