A national state/church watchdog with 23,000 nonreligious members has sent a letter of protest to the Commissioner of Prisons over misuse of prisoners to carve and upholster a special chair to be used by Pope Francis when he celebrates Mass in a prison later this month.
Freedom From Religion Foundation President Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote Commissioner of Prisons Louis Giorla today. She pointed out this is at least the second time Pennsylvania prisoners have crafted gifts for Catholic leaders. In January, inmates made a special chair for Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Caput when he celebrated Mass at the prison.
The Philadelphia Prison System appeared to coordinate the gift for the pope, with inmates from Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center handcarving the chair out of walnut and sending it to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility for reupholstery.
These prisons are public-supported, FFRF noted, they are not Catholic prisons.
"This is literally a captive audience, being asked to labor to produce something for a sectarian purpose, a purely devotional event, and that is totally inappropriate," she added. It doesn't matter whether the prisons asked for volunteers — prison officials shouldn't have been involved at all, she added.
"We write to point out that PPS appears to be showing impermissible favoritism to one religion over all others, and religion over nonreligion, by inviting Catholic religious leaders to its facilities and then bestowing gifts on them," Gaylor said.
The group asked that PPS take steps to ensure that it does not continue to use inmates to further religion and impermissibly promote one religion above all others.