FFRF recently halted the practice of compelling convicted offenders to attend Miracle Lake Christian Training Center and other similar institutions as a condition of probation in Tennessee. Forced attendance for probation did not offer alternate non-religious, non-spiritual treatment options.
FFRF, a state/church watchdog from Madison, Wis., has over 20,000 members nationwide with over 300 in Tennessee.
FFRF received a complaint from an offender in Tennessee and sent letters to the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole on Feb. 22 and the Department of Corrections on May 9 and July 12.
Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott explained that the core components and philosophy of the Miracle Lake Christian Training program are religious in nature since it is comprised of five phases: repentance, faith, mind renewal, life in the church and "life beyond."
Elliott wrote that state must offer non-religious options, and explained why religious programs can be detrimental: "Our organization receives a substantial number of complaints about religious drug treatment programs. Our complaints often express concern that they are being subjected to religion and pressure to conform to the religious practices of such support groups rather than receiving neutral, scientific assistance. Many describe experiencing ostracism after abstaining from participation in such overtly religious acts."
Derrick D. Schofield, the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Correction (DOC), sent FFRF a letter on Aug. 22 stating, "I can assure you that the state of Tennessee and its agencies of government are committed to the lawful separation of church and state and of the constitutionally guaranteed freedom to practice religion as each citizen sees fit. That right includes the freedom to refrain from the practice of any religion or to be forced to attend any religious programming against their will."
Schofield added that the DOC acknowledged its responsibility to offer non-religious treatment alternatives.
Compiled by Lauryn Seering