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ADL Welcomes Appeals Court Ruling Against Iowa Faith-Based Prison Program

New York, NY, December 3, 2007 The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today welcomed a federal appeals court ruling that a prison-based program in Iowa that encouraged prisoners to participate in religious instruction and proselytizing is unconstitutional.  ADL had filed an amicus curiae brief in Americans United v. Prison Fellowship Ministries, arguing that the program constituted a direct subsidy of proselytizing by the state government.

Deborah M. Lauter, ADL Director of Civil Rights, issued the following statement:

This was a case about a state-funded prison rehabilitation program that did much more than advance the worthy goal of rehabilitating prisoners.  It used taxpayer money to pay for what one of the defendants described as a "24-hour-a-day, Christ-centered, biblically based, program that promotes personal transformation of prisoners through the power of the Gospel." By declaring the program unconstitutional, the court sharply rebuked the defendants and others who would use government money to advance their particular religion.

Government funding of such religious activity is not unique to this prison or this kind of program.  This decision represents a significant setback for the faith-based initiative, and we hope it will guide other courts as they address similar violations of the Constitution.

ADL filed an amicus curiae brief in the case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.  The brief argued that a direct subsidy of proselytizing in a prison was an unlawful endorsement of religion by Iowa, coerced religious worship and participation, and discriminated against those who wish to follow other faiths (or no faith at all).  In exchange for participating in this program, prisoners would receive special privileges, including better housing, more freedoms, better visitation rights, and unique opportunities to earn parole faster.  

The brief was authored for ADL by Steven B. Varick and Hart M. Passman of Holland & Knight, LLP.


The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.



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2007 Anti-Defamation League