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Federal judge strikes down state-financed religious prison program

[JURIST] Judge Robert W. Pratt, chief judge of the US District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, ruled [PDF] Friday that a religious prison organization receiving government funds violated the US Constitution because it was used to rehabilitate prison inmates by advocating the tenets of Christianity. He found that inmates who voluntarily entered the program benefited through improved living conditions, and pointed out that alternative secular or non-Christian programs were not provided to prisoners. Pratt called the InnerChange Freedom Initiative [advocacy website] program run by the Prison Fellowship [advocacy website] ministry of Watergate convict-turned-evangelist Charles Colson [Washington Post profile] "pervasively sectarian" but added that he was not making a decision based on the effectiveness of such programs in rehabilitating inmates or "the ultimate truthfulness about religion."

The case [AUSCS backgrounder] was brought [AUSCS press release] three years ago by Americans United for Separation of Church and State [advocacy website] and is seen by many as a part of a broader challenge to the White House's faith-based initiatives [official website]. InnerChange is expected to appeal the decision to the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The New York Times has more.

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