FFRF victory: Minn. jail ‘repaints and repents’ over Ten Commandments display

Photo from the Minnesota Reformer

Inmates and others at Minnesota’s Itasca County Jail will not have religion forced upon them in the form of a massive Ten Commandments display, due to the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s intervention.

Following a number of complaints from area residents and taxpayers FFRF recently sent a legal complaint letter about various religious phrases at the jail, including the massive biblical edicts painted on a wall. Statements promoting religious belief or the bible, such as “‘Within the covers of the bible are the answers for all the problems men face.’ – Ronald Reagan,’” were even inscribed above cellblocks. In order to protect the First Amendment rights of incarcerated individuals, FFRF wrote to Jail Administrator Lucas Thompson demanding that the Ten Commandments display, as well as the other religious quotes, be removed.

“Constituents — including prisoners — have the right to be free from government proselytization,” FFRF Legal Fellow Hirsh M. Joshi wrote. “By suggesting that the bible holds ‘the answers for all the problems men face,’ the jail sends a message — to a captive audience — that those who practice Christianity during their stay will get favored treatment over those who do not.”

To fulfill its constitutional obligations under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause — and to respect the religious diversity of all prisoners — the jail needed to remove the Ten Commandments display and any quotes promoting religion, FFRF asserted.

Thankfully, a recent news report shows that FFRF’s efforts won the day.

“A two-story mural featuring the Ten Commandments and historic religious quotes, including two from former President Ronald Reagan, at a new county jail in Minnesota, has been painted over due to pressure from the same group that won a federal court ruling against recognizing Good Friday as a state holiday,” The Epoch Times writes. The article notes that Itasca County Sheriff Joe Dasovich did not want to paint over the religious displays, but did so on the advice of legal counsel.

“We told the county to ‘Repaint and Repent,” and they got the first part right,” quips Joshi, adding, “Now, it’s up to county officials to regain the trust of their constituents. Today, the wall between state and church remains standing.”

FFRF is pleased that the Constitution prevailed over the desire of some county officials to create a coercive religious environment.

“These displays imposed religious views on a literal captive audience,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Even those who are incarcerated have the right to be free from religion.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 800 members and two chapters in Minnesota. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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