Court rules against "faith based coercion" programs
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Mon Jun 05, 2006 at 12:56:06 AM EST
(Repost--originally misposted this in the wrong section.)

I've written several articles on one of the increasinglypromoted trends in "faith based" programs--specifically, the use of mandatory "faith based" programs like Charles Colson's "InnerChange" and the like as a condition of parole or even as a court-ordered therapy in some cases.

It is in fact not an exaggeration to term this sort of "faith based" program--which targets not just criminals but the homeless and some of our most vulnerable members of society (including "at risk" youth) as literal faith based coercion of the worst sort (in that people are told they will starve, or lose their children, or be imprisoned, or not be allowed out of prison or will be punished in prison unless they participate).

And in a recent lawsuit against Charles Colson's "faith based coercion" promoters involving the funding of Prison Fellowship Ministries by the state of Iowa--the US District Court serving southern Iowa agrees that it is faith-based coercion and that tax funding of these groups is unconstitutional.

Charles Colson has a rather long history of promotion of what I've termed "faith based coercion"--mandatory programs in prisons and other facilities where people are required to participate in "faith based" activities to earn release, earn privileges whilst in custody, etc.  

Charles Colson was probably best known, before his days as an active dominionist, as being one of the Watergate ringleaders and specifically as Nixon's "hatchet man".  He actually was the person who compiled the infamous "Enemies List", and was eventually imprisoned along with the rest of the Watergate Seven for conspiracy and obstruction of justice.  (The role is probably not dissimilar to that of Karl Rove in the ever-growing Abramoff Scandal--a point noted in articles in regards to Colson's role in Watergate that have termed Colson "[Karl Rove's] spiritual ancestor".)  Colson has been completely unrepentant in his role in what was the worst political scandal in US history prior to the Abramoff scandal; among other things, he condemned W. Mark Felt (when the latter revealed he was the person known as "Deep Throat" who first revealed the Watergate scandal) as disloyal and stated he "should have quit" if he disagreed with Nixon.

So the story goes, supposedly Colson "found Jesus" just before being imprisoned (which is amazingly common with political corruption) and proceeded to start a minor industry regarding "faith based" recovery programs targeting prisoners--the center of this being Prison Fellowship Ministries and the "InnerChange" program.   In some cases, this has even gone to the point of the literal creation of "faith based prisons" in Florida.

Colson has numerous links to dominionist groups including the secretive Council for National Policy, has been been involved with dominionism at its very core, and has even claimed that Hurricane Katrina was a sign from God that we need to step up efforts in the "war on terror". Colson is also largely responsible for selling dominionism to Catholics, being one of the major liasons between dominionist-sympathisers within the Catholic community, "Charismatic Catholics", and more traditional dominionists (particularly in the pentecostal and neo-pentecostal communities).

There are many reliable reports that literal religious coercion has occured in direct connection with Prison Fellowship Ministries--that people are required to join the programs as a condition of early parole, for instance. Texas' parole system is an example of a parole board that essentially has participation in "faith based" programs, and specifically Prison Fellowship Ministries, as a qualifying condition for parole; per this site there are already some initial reports that people are being made to join as a condition of parole.  Per the following article from Mother Jones, not only is coercion to join the PFI programs increasing but PFI is also targeting children of inmates for stealth evangelism.

And this leads us to our story--Iowa, like several other states, decided to allow Prison Fellowship Ministries to set up a "faith based coercion" program.  And, like in many other states, it was "faith based coercion" indeed--among other things, inmates were getting preferential treatment in prison based on their participation in Prison Fellowship Ministries' programs and there was little to no effective oversight.

Even more disturbingly, this was a case of taxpayer funded faith-based coercion.  Prison Fellowship Ministries was being paid out from the state Telephone Fund, which is a statewide fund in the state of Iowa for providing services for prisoners (including, of course, telephone calls to family members); other tax dollars were being used to fund it as well.

The group Americans United, along with families of several prisoners, filed suit; in a sharply worded 140-page legal decision the courts agreed for one of the first times that this is in fact religious coercion.

Very interestingly, the court decision takes pains to distinguish the specific flavour of Christianity from mainstream Christianity (though some of the regulars on Talk2Action would probably quibble at the terminology used):

Throughout this Memorandum and Order, the Court will describe Prison Fellowship and InnerChange's theological position, as reflected in its public statements, curriculum, and in practice at the Newton Facility, as Evangelical Christian rather than simply Christian or Non-Denominational Christian. Absolutely no animus is intended by this nomenclature. As will be evident from the facts set forth, the religious nature of the InnerChange program is not only distinct from non-Christian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Native American practices, and Judaism, for example) as well as atheist or agnostic practices, it is also quite distinct from other self-described Christian faiths, such as Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, and Greek Orthodoxy. Evidence shows that the Evangelical Christian message is also distinct from the beliefs held by self-described Protestant Christian denominations such as Lutheran, United Methodist, Episcopalian, and Presbyterian, again, to name only a few.

This brew of religious and non-religious groups makes up the American culture and it is the genius of the First Amendment that allows each person to enjoy the freedom to express themselves religiously without fear that another religious group will predominate with the state's seal of approval. See Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S. 228, 244 (1982) ("The clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another."); School Dist. of Abingdon Twp., Pa. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 319 (1963) ("What our Constitution indispensably protects is the freedom of each of us, be he Jew or Agnostic, Christian or Atheist, Buddhist or Freethinker, to believe or disbelieve, to worship or not worship, to pray or keep silent, according to his own conscience, uncoerced and unrestrained by government.") (Stewart, J., dissenting); Teterud v. Burns, 522 F.2d 357, 360 (8th Cir. 1975) ("It is not the province of government officials or court to determine religious orthodoxy.").

As one of the exhibits, the court records show that InnerChange employees are required to sign a statement of faith very similar to other dominionist statements of faith:

Prison Fellowship's own religious commitments can best be characterized as Evangelical Christian in nature.8 This commitment is most evident in the very specific Prison Fellowship Statement of Faith that all Prison Fellowship and InnerChange employees are required to sign:

We believe in one God, Creator and Lord of the Universe; the coeternal Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We believe that Jesus Christ, God's Son, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, lived a sinless life, died a substitutionary atoning death on the cross, rose bodily from the dead, and ascended to heaven where, as truly God and truly man, He is the only mediator between God and man.

We believe that the Bible is God's authoritative and inspired Word. It is without error in all its teachings, including creation, history, and its own origins, and salvation. Christians must submit to its divine authority both individually and corporately, in all matters of belief and conduct, which is demonstrated by true righteous living.

We believe that all people are lost sinners and cannot see the Kingdom of Heaven except through the new birth. Justification is by grace through faith in Christ alone. We believe in one holy, universal, and apostolic Church. Its calling is to worship God and witness concerning its Head, Jesus Christ, preaching the Gospel among all nations and demonstrating its commitment by compassionate service to the needs of human beings and promoting righteousness and justice.

We believe in the necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit for the individual's new birth and growth to maturity and for the Church's constant renewal in truth, wisdom, faith, holiness, love, power, and mission.

We believe that Jesus Christ will personally and visibly return in glory to raise the dead and bring salvation and judgment to completion. God will fully manifest His Kingdom when He establishes a new heaven and new earth, in which He will be glorified forever and exclude all evil, suffering, and death.

While Prison Fellowship's Statement of Faith contains beliefs common to many types of Christian groups, it is also significantly different in many respects.

This is, quite possibly, one of the few--if possibly even the only--court decision of this type that has attempted to explicitly define dominionism as separate from mainstream Christianity and in showing how such a program was coercive, even to mainstream Christian groups:

As Dr. Sullivan (Dr. Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, theologian--ed.) explained, though no formal membership requirements exist to identify an Evangelical Christian, historians and sociologists have identified several strong, associated characteristics. Foremost, Evangelical Christians place great emphasis on the Bible as the inerrant, sole source of authority for Christian teaching and personal morality. Evangelical Christians also believe that true conversion is an adult religious experience, most commonly referred to as being "born again." Not only is this experience paramount, so is the duty of every Evangelical Christian to evangelize--that is, to spread the good news of their faith and invite others to share the same adult conversion experience.  

Evangelical Christianity tends to be anti-sacramental, which means it downplays the traditional sacramental Christian events--baptism, holy communion or Eucharist, marriage, ordination, etc.--as appropriate ways to interact or meet with God. Along with initial adult conversion, contemporary Evangelical Christianity emphasizes religious experience--the actual experience of God in the believer's life. Evangelical Christians, therefore, are receptive to overt, actual displays of this experience much like those manifested in Pentecostal Christianity. Additionally, for Evangelical Christians, everything that happens in the world is understood through and interpreted by religious language. For many Evangelical Christians, the belief in creationism and suspicion of evolutionary theory is also present. Finally, the Evangelical Christian stance toward religious institutions is one of suspicion. This is most obviously seen in the worship style. Whereas traditional, organized religious groups, such as Roman Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, and Lutherans, employ a structured, highly liturgical style of worship, Evangelical Christian worship is free form with individual pastors given authority to determine how services are planned. For instance, Evangelical Christians have embraced contemporary music forms and multi-media presentations.

These characteristics, along with the theological commitments in the Prison Fellowship and InnerChange Statement of Faith, place the Evangelical Christianity of Prison Fellowship and InnerChange at odds with members of Christian groups who would not consider themselves to be part of the Evangelical Christian camp. For instance, the anti-sacramental beliefs contained in the Prison Fellowship and InnerChange religious views run counter to the core doctrinal beliefs of several Christian groups in which the celebration of the Mass or Eucharist is a central, necessary part of the Christian life. The Prison Fellowship and InnerChange theological position would be suspicious, if not contemptuous, of Roman Catholic reliance on papal authority, Marian devotion, and the veneration of saints. The Prison Fellowship and InnerChange belief in the substitutionary and atoning death of Jesus, which reflects a legalistic understanding of the sacrifice of Jesus, likewise, is not shared by many Christians. The Prison Fellowship and InnerChange belief in the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus is also not shared by many other, non-Evangelical Christians. Similarly, belief in an imminent, personal, and visible second coming of Jesus Christ, as held by Prison Fellowship and InnerChange, does not comport with the belief held by other non-Evangelical Christians that, if a second coming of Christ occurs, its nature is unknown, or is more spiritualized.

Later in the footnotes:

In one sense, the InnerChange program can be considered "non-denominational" in nature in that it does not consider itself a formal denomination or church. Given the major doctrinal differences between it and other Christian groups, however, it cannot consider itself "non-denominational" in the sense that its program or belief statements would be acceptable to inmates and employees who consider themselves Christian but not Evangelical Christian. The Court relies on Dr. Sullivan's testimony for this distinction as it does for the characterization of the faith groups and beliefs discussed in the Memorandum and Order as a whole.

(As an aside, even though the term "Evangelical Christian" is used, the court largely hints that it's being used as a synonym for dominionism--"Evangelical Christians, of course, do not have a monopoly on the word 'evangelical.' In some sense, all self-described Christian groups would consider themselves evangelical, in that they attempt to share the story written in the first four books of the New Testament and attributed to the evangelists--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.")

The court document also reveals for the first time that deliverance-ministry programs are an integral part of Prison Fellowship Ministries' programs, blaming all problems of prisoners on "sin" and claiming the only cure is conversion:

The IFI model seeks to "cure" prisoners by identifying sin as the root of their problems. Inmates learn how God can heal them permanently, if they turn from their sinful past, are willing to see the world through God's eyes, and surrender themselves to God's will. IFI relies and directs members to God as the source of love and inner healing. Members then build on this new relationship to recast human relationships based on Biblical insights.

(This is in essence a form of theophostic counseling--a particularly abusive form of "deliverance ministry" that shares many of the same abusive tactics as Scientology does and leaves similar percentages of "walking wounded".)

Some of the material sounds as if it could've come straight out of A Clockwork Orange:

InnerChange posits that an inmate's anti-social attitude and self-destructive behavior can only be overcome through an intensive religion-based program that is able to "rewire" that inmate's most basic emotional and mental structures. In the InnerChange model, an authentic religious experience is the means by which society's civic, or secular, goal--a rehabilitated, pro-social, and productive exinmate-- is met. A suitable analogy is that InnerChange's intensive religious indoctrination of inmates is like an emotional or volitional chemical therapy treatment. The InnerChange experience roots out the cancerous, harmful attitudes and disorders that keep an inmate from knowing and experiencing his authentic self. All analogies fall short, of course. InnerChange does not consider its treatment only a means--like chemical treatments--that fade away leaving the healthy organism, but also an end in itself. At the conclusion of the Field Guide's orientation materials, InnerChange includes a blessing: "May God bless you for the time you have spent with us reading this material. . . . Remember God loves you wherever you are. We pray that you will be aware of God's presence and power at all times." Pls.' Ex. 73 at 10. This blessing is consistent with the hope contained just a few lines before: "Above else, we pray that you will discover the transforming love of Jesus Christ." Id.

The court documents show that during the period in which InnerChange was being sold to the Iowa prison system, talks were being held at (among other things) an Assemblies of God church in Newton where area clergy were invited to talks geared towards ministers to further sell the program--an event where prison officials were also invited explicitly to attend.

The court document also shows that not only were funds taken from the general Telephone Fund but also monies meant for tobacco-abuse prevention (as part of the tobacco settlement), and by 2005 over a million and a half dollars of Iowa taxpayer money had been used to fund an explicitly dominionist program--one which persons who were locked up for substance-abuse related offenses were required to participate in as a condition of early parole.  In addition--unlike Native Americans in the system who participated in sweat lodges, or even Jewish  prisoners who were required to maintain kosher diets--and unlike every other exemption in the system, prisoners got even religious materials from Prison Fellowship Ministries at no charge to the prisoners themselves.

In addition, the prison's "honour unit" ended up being borged completely by PFI, including the section where the highest classification of inmates (as far as having earned points for good behaviour et al) resided; unlike all other facilities in the prison, there were individual rooms with privacy (in conditions more akin to a halfway-house than traditional prison living).  Membership in InnerChange's programs was mandatory for residing in "Unit E", the "honour unit".

There is even evidence that prisoners were recruited under deceptive pretences into PFI's programs.  The info given to prisoners upon joining claims one does not have to "accept Jesus Christ as your saviour"--the hard-sell occurs later, after they've been inducted in the program (and are subject to possible administrative penalties for leaving prematurely):

The Orientation includes, among other things, evening Bible study classes led by InnerChange peer facilitators. Upon completion of the Orientation, and in order to proceed into the InnerChange main program, all InnerChange inmates are required to sign a document entitled "Accountability Covenant." Pls.' Ex. 85. The signatory of the Accountability Covenant agrees to, among other things:

[U]nderstand that the principles in Matthew 18:12-35 will be applied in my life within the IFI community. Those principles are

  1. Error leads us to danger (vs. 12)

  2. The heart of correction is to restore (vs. 13, 14)

  3. It is the responsibility for those involved to reconcile on an interpersonal level (vs. 15)

  4. Peer mediation is to be utilized if necessary (vs. 16)

  5. Removal from the community is a last resort (vs. 17)

  6. Conflict resolution builds a stronger community (vs. 18-20)

  7. Interpersonal forgiveness of others is a condition of personal forgiveness from God. (vs. 21-35) Id.

This document is also an example of the all-pervasive use of the biblical text, primarily that portion of the text that Christians refer to as the New Testament, when InnerChange leaders wish to underscore or explain almost any facet of the InnerChange program's policies, principles, or instructions.

(Note the extensive scripture-twisting.  The full text is as follows (per the EText archive of the Revised Standard Version:

  1. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?

  2. And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.

  3. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

  4. "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

  5. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

  6. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

  7. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

  8. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.

  9. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

  10. Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?"

  11. Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

  12. "Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.

  13. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents;

  14. and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.

  15. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, `Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.'

  16. And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

  17. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, `Pay what you owe.'

  18. So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you.'

  19. He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt.

  20. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.

  21. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, `You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me;

  22. and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?'

  23. And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt.

  24. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."

v.12-14 is traditionally used as an example of God as kind shepherd (and would be contextually correct); its use in a manner to promote condemnation is disturbing.

v.15-17 have been used to promote not publically condemning fellow Christians.  In dominionist and other abusive churches, it has been misused both to stifle dissent (v.15) and to specifically condemn persons speaking up against church abuses for "backsliding" (v.16-17).

v. 18-20 are essentially the Christian version of "As above, so below".  This has been misused as the theological basis of the entire "name it and claim it" movement and spiritual warfare movements within neopente dominionism.  The promotion of it as "conflict resolution" is a little bizzare, as v.15-17 are more explicitly meant as a method of conflict resolution in the community.

v.21-35 is actually meant as a parable by Jesus explicitly warning of the consequences of failing to turn the other cheek and forgive people--it's a particularly strong version of "turn the other cheek" and part of Jesus' general message of forgiveness and mercy.  (Again, it's a verse that would be particularly condemning of just the very tactics used by PFI and other dominionists!))

 Prisoners were also not given info on alternate programs (including secular programs).  This became problematic, as even a number of people seeing the preliminary info felt they couldn't participate based on their own spiritual faith:

While these universal, civic values can logically be separated from the biblical context in which they are presented, the intensive, indoctrinating Christian language and practice that makes up the InnerChange program effectively precludes non-Evangelical Christian inmates from participating.Plaintiff-inmate Jerry Dean Ashburn ("Ashburn"), a self-described Reorganized Latter Day Saint, testified that, based on the reading of some of InnerChange's materials, he would not be comfortable joining the program. Plaintiff-inmate Bilal Shukr (a.k.a. Bobby Shelton) ("Shukr"), a Sunni Muslim, also read portions of the InnerChange curriculum and visited with the ISP chaplain to investigate whether InnerChange would be appropriate for him. The chaplain, a Dept. of Corrections employee, informed Shukr that the curriculum was strictly Christian-based and there were no opportunities for interfaith study in the program because there was no interfaith curriculum. Shukr testified that, as a Muslim, the teaching of the Bible was very important. What he could not countenance, as a Muslim, was that he would be in groups in which prayers would be offered to Jesus Christ as a deity, as God's son--something the strictly monotheistic religion of Islam would abhor. Shukr put it this way:

[T]here was no possibility for me, as a Sunni Muslim, to partake in that program without desecrating my faith, without me blaspheming God. We believe there's only one God, and he doesn't have any sons or daughters or partners. He's the supreme ruler over all mankind, and we are all brothers and sisters under one God. For me to embrace any type of curriculum contrary to that, I would be desecrating my faith.

Trial Tr. at 163. There are no similar community-based programs like InnerChange based on an Islamic model. For instance, while the Dept. of Corrections allows individual Muslim inmates to observe aspects of the holy season of Ramadan, there are no communal observations of Ramadan.

This fact, along with his other post-9/11 experiences of racial prejudice, Shukr testified, "just added fuel to the fire, mak[ing] it appear as though the state of Iowa has a partiality toward Christian-based programs, and not faiths of different sorts." Trial Tr. at 166. Inmate Troy Dewayne Redd ("Redd"), also a Sunni Muslim, keeps his faith through praying five times a day, making regular fasts, and attending Friday evening prayer service. For Redd, the act of joining InnerChange would be blasphemy--to do so a person "would have committed a sin against Allah, God." Trial Tr. at 292. InnerChange's own materials cast aspersions on non-Evangelical Christian faith groups.31 The Court found very credible Kevin Watson's testimony when he stated that, as a member of the Nation of Islam, he could not join InnerChange without compromising his faith. Indeed, Watson's Dept. of Corrections counselor informed Watson that InnerChange would probably not be for him.32

Likewise, Dept. of Corrections inmate Glendale More, Jr. ("More"), a member of the Lubavitch Jewish faith, practices his faith by not shaving his beard, wearing a yarmulke (although not yet allowed at the Newton Facility), performing mitzvahs, and staying kosher during high holy days (he pays for all his own kosher meals), praying, and staying in contact with his rabbis. To join a group praying to and worshiping Jesus Christ, as required by InnerChange, would violate his religious faith. The Court found credible the testimony of witnesses who stated that non-religious persons were often characterized by InnerChange staff as "unsaved," "lost," "pagan," those "who served the flesh," "of Satan," "sinful," and "of darkness." Native American inmates who enroll in InnerChange face obstacles as well. Benjamin Burens, a Native American Dept. of Corrections inmate, characterized his religious life as living the sweat lodge ways everyday. He does not believe Jesus Christ is God and does not use the Bible. Like many Native American prisoners, Burens participates in the sweat lodge ceremony on a regular basis. The costs of the sweat lodge materials--rocks, wood, etc.--are paid by those inmates who participate. While InnerChange has provided permission to the few Native American participants in the program to practice the sweat lodge ceremony, InnerChange makes clear that a non-Christian religious observance is not considered part of the InnerChange treatment program and may only be done at InnerChange's discretion. The Court found credible Burens' testimony that, during one-onone sessions with an InnerChange teacher, Burens was asked whether he was saved, whether he was a Christian, and whether he believed in Jesus. Trial Tr. at 758-59. Burens was also asked "what was I doing going out there to the sweat lodge ceremony." Id. at 759. Burens was told the sweat lodge ceremony was basically a form of witchcraft, against the Bible, sorcery, and worship of false idols. The InnerChange Field Guide in use during the time Burens was in the program stated: "As you are transformed into the image of Christ, you have more and more integrity." Pls.' Ex. 74. Not surprisingly, Burens did not last in the InnerChange program. The listed reasons for Burens' expulsion from InnerChange were that, because Burens received a visitor on a Friday, he missed a Friday revival by twenty minutes; that Burens was not growing spiritually; and that he did not "step up" in the community meetings, i.e., he did not fully participate in the services, instead remaining seated while others shows their involvement by singing songs, standing, and raising hands. Trial Tr. at 762-63.

The program, once people were inducted, instructed non-dominionists explicitly to convert using materials promoted in "deliverance ministry" circles:

For example, in the InnerChange class entitled Spiritual Freedom, InnerChange inmates read Bondage Breaker, a text authored by Neil T. Anderson. The author states that "[t]he first step toward experiencing your freedom in Christ is to renounce (verbally reject) all past or present involvement with occult practices, cult teachings, and rituals, as well as non-Christian religions." Bondage Breaker at 201. In the book, InnerChange inmates are invited to renounce, among other things, "Superstitions," "Mormonism," "Jehovah's Witness," "New Age," "Christian Science," "Church of Scientology," "Unitarianism/Universalism," "Hare Krishna," "Native American spirit worship," "Islam," "Hinduism," "Buddhism (including Zen)," "Black Muslim," "and any other non-Christian religions or cults." Id. at 202-03.

(The promotion of this work in particular is extremely disturbing to me.  "Bondage Breaker" is in fact a guide on the dominionist concept of "deliverance ministry" and in particular the idea that Christians can be oppressed or even "possessed" by demons and that all ill that befalls the "saved" is due to actions "opening doorways for Satan" (even things as innocuous as wearing peace symbols).  In addition, a great deal of "spiritual warfare" theology in the neopente dominionist community is based on stuff like this, and its abuses are legion--in some ways, indistinguishable from similar abuses in Scientology both in practice and in casualties; involuntary exorcisms are a regular occurence in these groups and people pour fully half their pre-tax incomes into "seed faith offerings" at "deliverance services" in the dominionist community; more darkly, they have also claimed entire political parties or persons who support things like the right of LGBT persons to legally marry or supporting reproductive rights as being "indwelt by Satan".  

(In particular note, the author of the book "Bondage Breaker" is a major promoter of "deliverance ministry" and in particular "theophostic counseling" and "spiritual warfare" movements connected with some of the most extreme instances of abuse (including religiously motivated child abuse) within the dominionist movement.)

InnerChange participants, among other things, also (unlike all other prisoners) did not have books received in the program--including the "deliverance ministry" guide above--counted towards a ten-book limit.

Participants were also forced to attend multiple meetings--including mandatory weekly "revival" meetings--as a condition of participation (as noted above).  In Phase II, a dominionist-style "shepherding" model is introduced in which inmates are explicitly paired with a "shepherd" meant to basically play "big brother" after their release.

Disturbingly, participation not only counts for "good behaviour" points, but being expelled or dropping out or missing InnerChange meetings for any reason counts as an explicit demerit--even if you were kicked out for not being a dominionist (such as was the case with the Native American who was literally accused of being a devil worshipper for participating in traditional sweat lodge ceremonies).  People can literally be held in punishment for simply failing to toe the dominionist line in these cases.

And sadly, prisoners at Newton in particular who wanted substance abuse treatment were caught in a classic "Catch 22" as they essentially had to participate in "InnerChange" or do without any sort of treatment program:

InnerChange is considered a unit-based residential treatment program by the Dept. of Corrections. Unit-based residential treatment programs are also referred to as "therapeutic communities" or "quasi-therapeutic communities." Besides InnerChange, the Dept. of Corrections offers therapeutic community programs at other institutions. These programs include the New Frontiers Substance Abuse program at Ft. Dodge, the TCP/DAA Substance Abuse program at Mt. Pleasant, the therapeutic community substance abuse program at Anamosa, The Other Way ("TOW") substance abuse treatment program at Clarinda, the RIVERS program for youthful offenders at Ft. Dodge, the SOTP at Mt. Pleasant, and the therapeutic community substance abuse treatment program at the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women at Mitchellville ("Mitchellville"). Only the SOTP at Mt. Pleasant and the InnerChange program allow long-term participation for months at a time. The InnerChange program is the only therapeutic community or quasi-therapeutic community program at the Newton Facility, as well as the only unit-based residential treatment program available to Dept. of Corrections inmates that is delivered by a private contractor.

Though all the treatment programs are unique, two of the therapeutic communities listed above compare to InnerChange--the RIVERS and TOW programs. In both programs, offenders live together and take treatment classes together in class settings. Neither program, however, can accommodate a broad range of inmate participants. The RIVERS program is reserved only for youthful offenders and the TOW program is for offenders with mental health or developmental disabilities.

Those participating are schooled in what is often quite blatant "spiritual warfare" theology, and many of the courses (even the money-management course) can be literally seen as Dominion Theology 101.  Inmates who participate are also explicitly "shepherded" post-release, and in general the legal document details how InnerChange is in fact a rather blatant recruitment tool for neopente dominionist churches.

This even went to the point of stripping non-dominionist Protestant services entirely from the facility, and InnerChange hijacking the chaplaincy program altogether in regards to Christian services (thus denying non-dominionist Christians a chance to worship).

Interestingly, the court document shows that the claims of "faith based coercion" decreasing recidivism are blatantly false:

More significant, however, is the lack of evidence presented by the Defendants about the effect of InnerChange on recidivism. Aside from anecdotes, the Defendants offered no definitive study about the actual effects the InnerChange program has on recidivism rates. Mapes' predecessor, Warden Mathes, communicated his desire early on in the initial RFP process that accountability for the program be included in the contractual agreement between the parties. Specifically, he requested "at least annual program evaluations to include, but not limited to, re-incarceration rates and other measurable outcomes." Pls.' Ex. 195 ¶ 4. But, in fact, there was no information presented at trial about whether InnerChange participants are more or less prone to recidivism than other inmates.

One of the more interesting bits of evidence presented was that at least one of the prison officials in question had intent of bringing in the group specifically because it was "faith based".

Needless to say, the court was not amused by this being paid for by the state, and forced on what was literally a captive audience:

Given the full record in this case, the entry of a declaration by the Court seems almost anticlimactic. Nonetheless, the Court does so now. The Court DECLARES that the contractual relationship between the state of Iowa, as managed and directed by the named state Defendants, and InnerChange and Prison Fellowship violates the Plaintiffs' Establishment clause rights as contained in the Federal and Iowa Constitutions by impermissibly funding the InnerChange treatment program at the Newton Facility. The Clerk of Court is ORDERED to enter a final judgment consistent with this declaration.

. . .

1. The InnerChange program at the Newton Facility.

There is no set of circumstances under which state funds could support the transformational values-based treatment methods employed in the InnerChange program.

Not only is Prison Fellowship Ministries now permanently enjoined from "faith based coercion" in the Iowa prison system, by order of the court Prison Fellowship Ministries will have to pay back the over $1,500,000 paid from the Tobacco Fund and Telephone Fund--and possibly as much as 1.8 million dollars--as penalty to drive the point home that "no establishment of religion" means "no establishment".

Prison Fellowship Ministries is, unsurprisingly, already threatening to appeal (in fact, the court document mentions this), but all the same--this is an EXTREMELY encouraging thing to see.   MAJOR kudos to Americans United for assisting in this, and may we find more people willing to support liberty and justice for all.

Thanks for this detailed writeup - this is big news and deserves to be promoted. I think this is going to be a big same sex marriage week and that story is going to hog a lot of the airwaves but this story is at least as significant.

You mention anti-Catholic sentiment in "faith-based" prisons, and so I thought I'd add this notorious example, from a Michigan "faith based" prison program.

This writeup is from Plastic

of Michigan has filed suit in a case that has brought these matters to
national attention. Joseph Hanas was convicted of a minor drug offense
and, in order to receive a deferred sentence, agreed to be placed in a
Christian residential outreach program. In the weeks that followed, program employees accused Hanas, a Catholic, of practicing witchcraft,
confiscated some of his personal religious possessions, forced him to
read the Bible seven hours a day, and told him that, in order to avoid
prison time, he would have to be "saved" and announce his salvation at
the altar. After seven weeks, Hanas asked the court to place him in a
secular program. The judge ruled that he had not completed the program
as agreed and consequently sentenced him to three months in jail,
followed by boot camp.

Some might say that Hanas should never
have expected otherwise when signing up for an explicitly Christian
program, but shouldn't everyone, no matter what their religion or lack
thereof, be able to benefit from alternative sentencing? Even boosters
of government-sanctioned faith-based programs are not likely to approve
of Inner City Christian Outreach, which declared that Catholicism is a
form of witchcraft, but once the wall of separation has been torn down, where does one draw the line?

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Jun 05, 2006 at 06:49:49 AM EST
I actually remember that particular incident--it was in part what inspired me to write my original article on "faith based coercion" programs here in relation to the Hanas case.

Sadly, such behaviour is reportedly typical in these programs (as I noted in the original article).

One of the things I think is really big--even if PFI appeals--is that for the first time we have hard evidence of some of the scarier things explicitly promoted by Colson's group (the "Theophostic counseling" and "deliverance ministry" stuff especially so, and for the first time we also have good evidence they're doing the old "bait and switch").

In some ways this is potentially as big as the ruling against the parties pushing young-earth creationism in Dover County, and the court ruling in full is a similar bitchslapping (many of the comments detail how Prison Fellowship Ministries tried to use practically every trick in the book to get the case thrown out--claiming the plaintiffs and the groups assisting them had no standing, claiming the theology researcher brought in by Americans United was biased, claiming the program was "voluntary" (possibly very strictly speaking, but in practice it largely was not, seeing as it was the only substance abuse program available at the jail and persons who left or were booted received administrative sanctions), etc.)

by dogemperor on Mon Jun 05, 2006 at 10:44:18 AM EST

Wasn't there also a case in another state, in which an atheist, recovering alcoholic prisoner tried to use Rational Recovery rather than a theistic program, and got more jail time because of it?

by GreenEyed Lilo on Mon Jun 05, 2006 at 10:50:06 AM EST
Actually, there have been a large number of cases where Rational Recovery has had to sue to get equal footing; their Wikipedia entry details more.  One case is Griffin vs. Coughlin (re participation in AA as a condition of visitation rights); almost all court rulings have been in favour of Rational Recovery.

The case you're thinking about is Lou Peters vs Ohio or possibly Warner vs Orange County (CA); there in fact have been multiple cases of this type.

Bringing things full circle, at least one of the cases in question (O'Connor vs State of California, which ruled that the state must provide secular alternatives to AA) was used as a specific court precedent in the Hanas case.

by dogemperor on Mon Jun 05, 2006 at 11:38:13 AM EST

One of my best friends is a man a few years older than me who went through the hell of quitting drinking on his own 17 years ago and hasn't looked back since. He and I have talked about AA and its quasi-religious foundation and have both made the independent observation that the organization often seems to substitute one addiction for another, that dependence on the group is essential if one is to keep one's dependence on alcohol at bay.

I'm sure many of the readers/participants of this forum have seen these articles from, but I'm (re)posting the URLs here because we both found them helpful to our understanding:

The Semantics of the Twelve Step Neurosis
A Skeptical View of the Twelve Steps
Therapeutic groups versus 12-step groups

The owner of this site does appear to have a big axe to grind regarding AA, and his own postings often show that, but he does provide a number of useful resources from professional standpoints.

By way of background, I'm not an alcoholic myself but I've known quite a few people people for whom AA was decidedly unhelpful and who left, and others who refused to get involved with it, in part because of its specifically Christian quasi-religious foundation and in part - like my friend - because of its primary insistence on the acceptance and belief in "powerlessness." Most people I've known who have kicked the habit and stayed off the sauce for many years have done so via finding ways of empowering themselves and using that power to move on with their lives.

Having said that, I acknowledge that AA has helped many people (including several of my friends) keep from going back to drinking. But despite the almost universal view of both professionals and lay people, it's far from the only way.

by anomalous4 on Sat Jun 10, 2006 at 01:37:52 PM EST

I am so, so, so glad that the Iowa court ruled against it. Of course they're going to be accused of being "anti-Christian" now. What Colson's "ministry" did, and the way they went about it in Iowa, had much more to do with controlling a literally captive audience than religious freedom. The facts of the program deserve to be further publicized. There was no freedom in this religion. I definitely want to write a check to AU now!

by GreenEyed Lilo on Mon Jun 05, 2006 at 10:45:37 AM EST

I'm rushed for time, but there's a nice piece on Slate concerning the fact that Colson's "rehabilitation" programs simply don't work - in fact, they seem to do worse, in their results, than no treatment at all.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Jun 05, 2006 at 01:43:26 PM EST

How does this decision square with the case in New York where a federal judge upheld the Salvation Army's right to impose statements of faith on its federally-funded employees and fire those who refused to sign? As we begin to have a raft of contradictory court decisions about federal faith-based funding, where will that leave us?

by Esther Kaplan on Wed Jun 07, 2006 at 07:16:51 PM EST
...for now, we'll have different rulings that are binding on different parts of the country, and there is a possibility that such a decision could end up going before the Supreme Court if worse comes to worst.

This particular court case does have some very good legal background, though, so the chances of an appeal being successful are less.  

by dogemperor on Thu Jun 08, 2006 at 09:37:16 AM EST

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but (AFAIK) unlike the various religion-based prison "ministries," the Salvation Army only requires such statements of faith from its employees, not from those it serves. From what I understand, if you go to one of their centers you do get a sermon with your soup, but they don't try to force you to swallow the religion along with the noodles.

Also, many of Army's services are aimed not at proselytizing but at providing basic human services to anyone in need who asks. They walk the fine line between non-discrimination in the services they provide and their existence as a religious organization; maybe that makes a difference to the courts.

Again, someone please correct me if I'm wrong........

BTW, I didn't realize the Army was a religious organization until I was a young adult. I thought they were just a service organization that ran thrift stores and soup kitchens and collected money for the poor at Christmas time, and whose members were nice people who just happened to dress oddly sometimes.

by anomalous4 on Sat Jun 10, 2006 at 03:01:27 PM EST

The Salvation Army has historically only required statements of faith from its fulltime employees (which are actually members of the church), but increasingly they are starting to be more aggressive in both prosyletising and in embracing things within the organisation and politically that are more associated with the dominionist movement.

The article The Salvation Army and Anne Lown has more info on this, especially in the commentary.

One of the examples of the Salvation Army going more explicitly hardline is both in lobbying to specifically exempt charitable groups from being included in Fairness ordinances and even threatening to pull soup kitchens and homeless shelters entirely from areas which require equal benefits for domestic partners of LGBT individuals.

There are occasional complaints of prosyletisation to clients at Salvation Army offices, but these do tend to be rare--certainly NOTHING in the league of charities run by dominionist churches (like the Assemblies' Convoy of Hope, Dream Center (another Assemblies-run charity that, among others, has been linked to possible religious coercion of Hurricane Katrina evacuees) or Frank Graham's "Shepherd's Purse").  Still, the turn the Salvation Army has taken to explicitly embracing dominionism in its leadership is rather disturbing.

by dogemperor on Sun Jun 11, 2006 at 11:06:24 AM EST

I know, here in Hawai`i, Salvation Army was the major unsung hero of post-hurricane assistance in 1992, after Hurricane Iniki devastated Kaua`i. SA got high marks from everyone -- especially those they helped -- for just showing up with the goods, rolling up their sleeves, pitching in, and staying until the job was done.

It's sad to think that they've now decided to pick and choose amongst potential recipients for their aid.

by wahineslc on Sun Jun 11, 2006 at 05:11:43 PM EST

There seem to be, here, two strains of judicial thought running down the rails at each other with the momentum of freight  trains. The tension mirrors that in American society at large and can only be resolved, I think, if people can be taught to stop looking away.

by Bruce Wilson on Wed Jun 07, 2006 at 09:55:39 PM EST

But, I'm picky about what I base on it - like, it doesn't start my car !

Maybe I just don't have enough of it. But, that way of thinking seems like a good way to beat myself up unecessarily.

by nonlinear on Mon Jun 05, 2006 at 02:42:21 PM EST

and I think its especially bad to shove religion down people's throats in the way this story describes. actually, it's reprehensible.

by nonlinear on Mon Jun 05, 2006 at 02:44:03 PM EST

   While your critique about Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship raises some poignant questions regarding what is "faith based coercion" and what isn't, I'm going to have to suggest it's mistaken in a number of critical areas.    
   First of all, your attempts to vilify Colson by comparing him to Karl Rove seem a little forced, at best. (You anti-"Dominionists" really have a thing about Rove, don't you? It must be those two close Democrat election losses.)
   And your assertion that Chuck Colson is absolutely "unrepentant" about Watergate is  demonstrably false. Surely you could have done a better job of familiarizing yourself with a guy who is perhaps one of the five most influential Christians in America.
   And all you have to do is pick up a copy of the best selling book "Born Again" and read about Colson's self-loathing regarding his personal behavior in the watergate scandal. This man has gone on record on a multitude of occasions as condemning the entire scandal and his role in it. I'm shocked that you missed that. Perhaps it wouldn't have fit in with this  notion of Colson being a villain who couldn't admit he'd done something wrong.  
    Furthermore, when it comes to Chuck Colson, the "Dominionist" angle isn't even what it seems. This is a man who is also on record as writing about 10 years back that he would rather be governed by a "competent Turk than an incompetent Christian". If you are looking for people who think evangelicals should rule the roost in every area of American life, you're probably barking up the wrong tree when it comes to Chuck Colson, because he doesn't advocate for that position.
   And when it comes to Colson and other purported "Dominionists", you "Talk2Action" guys are really into this conspiratorial guilt-by-association thing aren't you? You can prove just about  anything you want that way. Bill Clinton's most frequent visistor to the White House was (no, not Jennifer Flowers) Yassar Arrafat. Was anybody suggesting that proved that Clinton was a terrorist? I don't think so.
   Chuck Colson has spent thousands of hours of his own time trying to help others who are going through a similar experience of incarceration that he once went though. The man believes that the transforming power of Jesus Christ can change men's lives. And even if you don't believe in that, is there something wrong or sinister in offering hope to men who have none? Thanks for your time and God Bless.                


by Dave W on Fri Jun 09, 2006 at 10:02:41 PM EST

a) The comparison to Karl Rove is in fact not originally mine--it's actually from people who have researched Colson's specific role in Watergate, so I'm afraid any argument you may have will need to be taken up with those researchers.

b) His statements post-Watergate, I am afraid, do indicate to me that the thing he regretted the most was the act of getting caught.  (This is something I've seen all too often--especially in regards to scandals in the dominionist community itself.)  

Personal stories about "self-loathing", I am afraid, do very little to impress me--as I have personally seen (in the same dominionist churches Colson promotes, yet) preachers weeping and claiming repentance when caught in flagrante delicto with their hands in the cookie jar or in bed with the local ladies of the night--and their parishoners (who are in fact often taught it is a literal sin to confront the preacher on this) forgive him, and he goes on to do the same damned thing all over again.

Jesus himself stated (in one of his last lessons to the Apostles before his crucifixion) that one must look to the fruits of a man's actions to see if he was doing good or evil, because "by their fruit ye shall know them".  

Colson's condemnation of the very person who was most influential in exposing the Watergate scandal in the first place--and most influential in sparking the investigation which ended in his imprisonment--is not exactly a sign of repentance.  You don't tell someone who has reported you Did Wrong that they "were disloyal" and "if they didn't like what was going on they should have quit" if you are repentant about it; you acknowledge it.

And again, Colson's quote is again confirmable from outside sources.

c) Actually, we aren't so much into "guilt by association"; we're more on exposing the verifiable links between dominionist groups, and for that matter between dominionists and some of the truly scary groups out there.

Dominionists, for at least thirty years (and closer to fifty in some branches of the movement), have held a policy of blatant deception when necessary to hide any wrongdoing from ever coming out to the public.  This is in part because they know that even a sizable number of their followers would flat out reject them if they knew the full truth (such as literal support for racists in some cases)--Ralph Reed's political career is in fact largely in the toilet right now in part due to info regarding him being one of the primary persons in Indian gaming scandals related to the Abramoff corruption scandal.

My concern, to be honest (regarding deceptive tactics used) is actually more of a human one than a political one--I personally feel it is highly unethical for a religious group to recruit people by deception and force.  (Paul, in one of his sermons, even stated "let your yes be yes, and your no be no"--stating that Christians should be honest in all things.)

A group using deception to recruit members--as Prison Fellowship Ministries is now documented as doing--is also known as a warning sign of what is increasingly becoming known as "spiritual abuse".  It is now recognised that "Bible-based" groups can, and sadly occasionally do, go every bit as cultic as the Church of Scientology; the consequences are quite severe, including lifelong adjustment issues for kids who grow up in those groups, complex PTSD (literal "shellshock") for the survivors--and, of particular note to clergy, people who end up abandoning Christianity or even organised religion altogether due to Christian imagery that was misused being a literal panic trigger and reminder of abuse.

I myself am in this situation--I've survived 26 years of spiritual abuse, including religiously motivated child abuse, at the hands of parents and one of the largest dominionist churches in my home state (and in fact, the church which largely started the dominionist movement in my state--the first two statewide focus dominionist lobbying groups are both effectively headquartered at the church and run by a deacon with full consent of the pastor).  I know all too well the consequences of spiritual abuse--I'm one of the "walking wounded" from it, and this is why I've done so much to try to educate people about this subject here on Talk2Action (because spiritual abuse is rampant in especially the more hardcore dominionist groups).  I am probably never going to be comfortable in a church; I consider it a big step that I can read from the Bible to explain how verses have been explicitly misused and twisted out of context by dominionists.

One of the biggest concerns I have about Colson's activities is just this--there are some very disturbing signs at Prison Fellowship Ministries that show that, much like the dominionist church I escaped, there are some highly abusive practices that are the norm at PFI.  Among them, at least one book was used ("The Bondage Breakers") which I am personally familiar with--it was used explicitly at the church I left, too.  It's a manual in some of the most abusive practices in hardline dominionist churches--the concept of "deliverance ministry" and "theophostic counseling", both of which use similar methods to (and sometimes even nearly identical terminology to) that used in the Church of Scientology.  (BTW, this isn't "guilt by association"; researchers of spiritual abuse and counselors have found common "tactics" of abusive religious groups that remain largely the same despite theology.)

This is another case of "By their fruits, ye shall know them"--"bad trees produce bad fruit", and abusive tactics within a church will produce casualties.  The fact that I'm seeing the same sorts of abuse going on at PFI as I have with not only the abusive dominionist church I left, but other people who are escapees from that same denomination reporting the same (which is an indication it's a problem denomination wide), people in churches not strictly in that denomination but in the same branch of Christianity that have also reported the same (indicating it may be a problem within that particular movement) and even abusive groups completely outside Christianity altogether (like the CoS)--this is an indication you've possibly got a tree out there putting out bitter fruit (to use Jesus' parable), and I do believe that (as a moral human being) I do have a responsibility to warn people not to eat from it, having been fed from that tree repeatedly as a kid and getting cases of the heaves, splurts, and a rather severe case of a gastric ulcer and malnutrition to boot.

by dogemperor on Sat Jun 10, 2006 at 10:09:56 AM EST

Some more thoughts on "Coercion":
    I think your comments about my description of Chuck Colson's view of his role in Watergate miss the point entirely. The words I used, "self loathing", really had little, if anything, to do with preachers caught in sin by their flock. You've made it sound as if Colson is Jimmy Swaggart. (Apples and oranges.) The issue is Colson, his integrity, and his response to his own role in Watergate.          
    The point was, and is, that Colson has fully taken responsiblity for his actions during the Watergate era. He's admitted his failures in a number of his books, including "Born Again". He's changed his ways and is living a life largely devoted to helping others.
    Your interpretation of what Chuck Colson meant by one comment he made regarding the recent revelation of the identity of "Deep Throat" is insufficiently weighty to refute statements that Colson has consistently made, spoken and in print, over the last quarter century, acknowledging his culpability in the Watergate Scandal. And Colson, as a political commentator, and as an American, is free to have an opinion about Watergate and Deep Throat, like everybody else. The man, after all, was part of history. Why shouldn't he be able to comment on it?
    For you to skeptically characterize Colson  as "unrepentant" or as engaging in phoney repentance is tantamount to (1)Judging a man you hardly seem to know and of (2)Applying a standard of perfection and a level of scrutiny that you probably wouldn't want applied to yourself. (Some things Jesus also would not approve of.)    
    It's hard not to think that all of this hubbub about Chuck Colson serves no purpose other than fulfilling somebody's preconceived, prepackaged agenda of debunking as many American evangelical leaders as possible. And if I'm completely wrong here, I apologize and eagerly look forward to your upcomming 7-part expose' on Jesse Jackson's religious empire. After that, perhaps we'll see something on Al Gore and Bill Clinton openly campaigning in Southern Baptist Churches and even preaching from the pulpit.        
    And regarding spiritual abuse in churches,  I'm certainly cognizant and sympathetic, to some degree, I think, of some of the dangers  you've cited. However, when it comes to Colson's ministry, I am notably dubious of the "experts", you've referenced. It's quite possible these people are secular jihadists, who are simply going to pronounce virtually anything that Colson does with his ministry as being injurious to somebody's mental health and in violation of their constitutional rights.  
    And with regard to spurious, old and tired charges of "Dominionist" racism, space and time, I'm sorry to say, does not permit an adequate rebuttal. Please see my comments in that regard below Bruce Wilson's column about hate speech and stunning oxen. Those apply here as well, I think.            
    Maybe we can at least agree that Chuck Colson is engaged in at least one pursuit that is emminently sensible. As a prison reformer, Colson has long sought changes in sentencing guidelines which would make it easier for non-violent offenders to be sentenced to restitution rather than prison.      
    This would likely decrease predatory behavior between inmates and would free up more space for truly dangerous offenders to serve longer terms, whether they say they've accepted Jesus Christ as Saviour or not.
    (And, maybe this would have prevented the horrifying nightmare which recently occurred, near Clemson University, where a man who had no business being out of prison and on the street was there anyways.) Perhaps this also shows that Chuck Colson has few, if any, delusions about just how depraved many of these inmates really are.
    And that depravity along with the sorry testament of their wasted lives reminds these men that they don't posses the requisite goodness to live a moral life. These men don't need "rational thought". That's what got them into trouble in the first place - the rational cost/benefit decision they made to pursue selfishness by committing crimes. They need a higher power in their lives to help them live as they ought. That's what Chuck Colson is trying to do by telling them about Jesus. Anybody have a better idea? Thanks again and God Bless.                            

by Dave W on Sun Jun 11, 2006 at 12:39:38 AM EST
Before we continue much further, I would like to remind you that the guidelines for this site do tend to frown very much on things like actively attempting to troll.  Just so we can keep things civil, I do encourage you to read the guidelines for this site.  (We've had to remove several persons already who have essentially been "astroturfing" some of the threads regarding the controversy re the Left Behind games, so we've been on guard as of late.)

I do welcome debate, of course.  Just keep it civil, keep it noniflammatory, and don't attack the messenger.

That being said:

1) The point of the article, incidentially, was not just Colson's behaviour in Watergate; in fact, the article was included to show simply Colson's prior history (and the fact he was intimately involved in the Watergate scandal, and the fact he has publically castigated the person known as "Deep Throat" for revealing the Watergate plot, is undeniable and is part of public record).

The primary point of the article was that a particularly coercive program operated by Chuck Colson--part of a spectrum of dominionist programs known to have some highly unethical and coercive practices--has been ruled unusable in the Iowa prison system, and the reason it was ruled not to be usable is because of its coerciveness and sectarian nature.

Again, having been involved in a dominionist coercive religious group, I can state that "dirty tricks" are unfortunately the norm.  Criticism of leaders is stifled; massive character assassination of critics is performed (sometimes even literally calling them agents of the devil); often this extends to the realm of dirty political tricks.

In regards to Colson's commentary on Deep Throat, though, MSNBC has done an indepth interview with Colson which backs up my statements:

What could he have done, Amy? He could have walked into (FBI Director) Pat Gray and said, 'We're going to go over to the Oval Office and tell the old man what's going on.' If Pat Gray said no, then Pat Buchanan's right, you have a press conference and you leave. That's the honorable way to do it. People talk about a hero. A hero might have, if he had the courage, gone in and talked to the President. I know Richard Nixon well enough -- no paragon of moral virtue - but out of expediency, if he thought the FBI really had the goods on him, he would have turned off what was going on in the White House and he might have saved the government. Then, we really would have built a shrine to him.

(quoting from Colson's statement)

Now, no offense, but simply quitting and walking away would not have been possible--in Nixon's administration, an aggressive eye was kept out for "enemies of the presidency" and had he attempted to resign odds are he'd not only have been fired but been subject to character assassination if not worse (remember, this was also the era of COINTELPRO where peace groups and groups actively critical of the Presidency were being investigated by the FBI and CIA as being potentially "communist").

In fact, had it not been for the secrecy in which Felt reported to the Washington Post, it is extremely unlikely we would have ever known the full scope of Watergate.  

In an interesting twist of irony--had Felt resigned, one of the persons who would have been the most responsible for any attacks would be Colson himself.  Much of Colson's own role was in fact revealed by Felt.

It is in fact rather bizarre you keep harping on the Watergate thing, in fact, when 90 percent of the article is discussing Chuck Colson's present activities.

2) Re judging of Colson:  He has shown unethical behaviour in the past, and (specifically in regards to Prison Fellowship Ministries) he is head of a program that uses coercive and unethical methods against literally captive populations.  (Again, I will remind you that this was the main point--new info on some of the highly abusive practices used in Prison Fellowship Ministries.)

I am actually quite familiar with the argument you seem to be using--"thou shalt not judge a man of God".  This is a common "thought stopping" technique used in abusive religious groups in general and is explicitly used to prevent criticism of leadership.  (Healthy churches, as an aside, do not exempt the leader or other "annointed" from criticism.)

Personally, I don't care if it's the President or the Pope; if someone is doing wrong, especially under the cloak of religion, I do feel it is moral to point out that, well, religion is being abused to harm people.  (Sadly, yes, this happens.  Even in "Bible-based", "born-again" churches.)  As a survivor of religious abuse, I do feel it is important to point this out.

3) Regarding specific coercive practices:

a) Materials used in Colson's PFI programs include books such as "The Bondage Breakers" which promote a specific doctrine--only found in abusive "Bible-based" churches, and utterly absent from more mainstream forms of Christianity--called "deliverance ministry".

Deliverance ministry, and its "therapeutic" version "theophostic counseling" (which is increasingly promoted in dominionist communities as an alternative to "secular" psychiatry--in part because psychiatrists are becoming more aware of the subject of spiritually abusive groups), are some of the most abusive practices in dominionism today.  Basically, it is taught that everything outside the group is demonic and that anything not explicitly approved by the group can "open doorways for Satan" and cause one to be "demonically oppressed".  In quite a few "deliverance ministry" groups this expands to the acts of your ancestors--"generational curses" based on the misdeeds of your ancestors are often given as the reason you're still being "oppressed".

The old version of "Theophostic counseling", "recovered memory therapy", led to hundreds of people being investigated and losing custody of children or even being imprisoned because counselors were placing ideas in the heads of adults they had been subjected to "Satanic Ritual Abuse" as children.  Nearly all of these people have since been vindicated as innocent, but their lives have still been ruined as a result.

Deliverance ministry--specifically the concept that children can be indwelt by "demons of rebellion" and the concept that women who don't "submit to their husbands as their husbands submit to God"--have been used for justification of multiple  horrific cases of bona fide religiously motivated child abuse--and sometimes even abuse of the unfortunate children reporting abuse.  One particular group of promoters of Biblically-sanctioned baby-beating, Michael and Debbie Pearl, have explicitly not only used deliverance ministry as justification for their horrid childrearing advice but have literally accused their critics of being demon possessed.

The articles which can cause "demonic oppression" and even frank possession in these groups are myriad--articles as innocent as the international peace symbol, Nike shoes, and even Cabbage Patch Kids (Bill Gothard, a major promoter of "deliverance ministry", often told women to throw out their children's Cabbage Patch Kids because they were "possessed").

In a case of more direct comparison of spiritually abusive tactics, practices in deliverance ministry groups are almost identical to those used in the Church of Scientology--the latter being a group so well documented as a bona fide spiritually abusive group that its name is almost synonymous with "dangerous cult" in the minds of many.

I very seriously doubt that you would approve of, say, prisoners being forced to study "Dianetics" or attend Scientology courses as a condition of better living conditions or early release!

b) There is documented evidence that the use of "shepherding" may occur in Prison Fellowship Ministries groups.

"Shepherding" is a practice with a a long history of abuse, especially in pentecostal and neopentecostal churches; in fact, one of its later practitioners (the International Church of Christ, formerly known as the Boston Church of Christ) is known as a model for "Bible-based cults" primarily because of its extremely heavy use of "shepherding".  The book The Discipling Dilemma--which is online--documents wonderfully why shepherding groups tend to become highly abusive.

Another example of an abusive shepherding group is of Maranatha--which eventually had to cease operations and reorganise (under the names Morning Star International and later Every Nation) because they had been banned from multiple college campuses for gross coercion of students.

c) Scripture is grossly misused to maintain and keep control of participants in the Prison Fellowship Ministries program, often by use of Scripture taken out of context.

This is known as "scripture-twisting" and is widely known as a practice common in spiritually abusive groups that are based off a mainstream religion (for example, "Bible-based" abusive groups based on Christianity, Soka Gakkai (based on Buddhism), 70's era Hare Krishnas (based on Hinduism), etc.)  

d) Deception used in recruiting.  PFI was sold as a nondenominational program, but after review at least one Jewish person and two observant Moslems felt they could not participate; a follower of traditional Native American spirituality was expelled from the program for participating in a sweat lodge ceremony and was even accused of "witchcraft" for doing so.

In fact, Prison Fellowship Ministries' program as described in the legal brief would fit multiple criteria of Steven Hassan's BITE Model--probably enough that it would be considered a coercive religious group in and of itself.  (Mr. Hassan is possibly one of the world's most respected experts in spiritually abusive groups, and is himself an escapee from the Moonies so is intimately aware of how spiritually abusive groups operate.)

I myself have also written up on the general topic of spiritual abuse in dominionist communities on several occasions, including specifically articles on coercive practices documented by various checklists.

Another aspect of what makes this program particularly coercive is that prisoner privileges were specifically tied to participation or lack thereof in the program--prisoners who were PFI participants getting substantially better living conditions, persons who were rejected or later found the program was not for them lost privileges and received demerits.  In many cases there was no other program available for substance abuse rehab.

4) In regards to documented links between dominionism and racist groups, these are neither old nor tired--in fact, I actually tend to find the evidence quite disturbing myself, because (among other things) it is a direct violation of Jesus' admonition to love one's brother as one loves themselves.

This is another example of where I refuse to "judge not a man of God" and, rather, take my case before the body of men.  This is a case where people are doing wrong and need to be taken to task for it, and people need to be informed of it.  I am quite unapologetic about this, and thank God, there are other good Christians out there (and even a few good pagans and Jews and others!) who have pointed this out.

This is an example of what I have termed "attacking the messenger"--claiming that such things are "old and tired" does not change the fact that, for instance, the Constitution Party is very closely tied to and promoted by both Klan and militia groups tied to Christian Identity; it does not change the fact that Tony Perkins received thousands of dollars from known Klansman David Duke for his mailinglist; it does not change the fact that Roy Moore has been at multiple meetings of and has close links with multiple racist groups.

As an aside, the article I noted also did not mention racism within dominionism at all.  Rather, it talked about religious discrimination at points (specifically, Jewish, Islamic and practitioners of Native American spirituality) who either could not participate because of their sincere religious beliefs or who tried and were later kicked out.

5) Prison reform is an admirable goal, but coercion of prisoners to participate in a program which is potentially spiritually abusive is not.

Again, I ask you--would you want courses in Scientology taught in prisons, even as a form of "prison reform"?  I think not.

One of the troubling things re PFI, at least in the Iowa situation, was that this was the only program available for inmates.  Prisoners could not choose a secular program; prisoners could not choose a program more in line with their own religious beliefs.  It was PFI or bust, literally.

Also, of note, there is considerable controversy over whether PFI's program is in fact effective.  Some recent studies by independent researchers indicate that PFI's program may actually be worse than secular programs at reducing inmate recidivism:

But when you look carefully at the Penn study, it's clear that the program didn't work. The InnerChange participants did somewhat worse than the controls: They were slightly more likely to be rearrested and noticeably more likely (24 percent versus 20 percent) to be reimprisoned. If faith is, as Paul told the Hebrews, the evidence of things not seen, then InnerChange is an opportunity to cultivate faith; we certainly haven't seen any results.

The full study is here;  per its findings, the rate of rearrest within two years of release was nearly identical between PFI participants and controls (36.2% for PFI versus 35% control) and re-imprisonment was actually higher (24.3% for PFI versus 20.3% control).  The latter is actually quite significant statistically.

6) In regards to "depravity" of criminals--firstly, criminals are human.  Yes, violent criminals and even white-collar criminals are dangerous, but still human.

Secondly, the vast majority of people who are imprisoned--and who are participants in the PFI program--are non violent inmates who are arrested and convicted for things like drug possession and the like.  (In fact, in several prisons where PFI operates, violent offenders are specifically excluded.)

Thirdly, IMHO it is inadvisable to be encouraging inmates--violent or no--to enter spiritually abusive programs, partly because one of the known side effects of being involved in a spiritually abusive group is complex PTSD.  (Complex PTSD is a specific type of post-traumatic stress disorder that develops when one is subjected to levels of abuse for a longterm period.  The two most common categories of people living with complex PTSD are survivors of religious abuse and survivors of domestic abuse.)

Complex PTSD by itself tends to be longterm in treatment, and when there are comorbid conditions (like having been raised in an abusive household (thus having socialisation issues) or substance abuse issues or mental illness--all EXTREMELY common in the prison population) it is even more difficult to treat.

Quite a number of prisoners have suffered abuse as kids, often horrific; quite a number of prisoners do have drug or alcohol abuse issues; quite a number suffer from mental illness (and a policy where persons who are mentally ill and commit offenses tend to be judged "guilty but mentally ill" once medicated and then put into the general prison population instead of being in an appropriate treatment facility).

Throwing them into something that shows every sign of being a spiritually abusive program is, quite probably, like throwing gasoline on fire in these cases.  It will not help them; with especially some of the more abusive components (especially the "deliverance ministry" stuff) it has real potential to harm.

An example of how coercive groups disguised as substance abuse treatment can be tragic is the case of the group called Synanon.  Synanon is, now, known as one of the most coercive programs ever promoted; it, like PFI, was originally promoted as a "faith based" program for substance abuse (and later incorporated as a church as it became increasingly abusive).  An article describing how "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh was recruited by the Taliban and how the Taliban itself qualified as a particularly spiritually abusive Islamic group discusses Synanon:


Another case in which a cult soldier received sympathy occurred when the victim-me-spoke of the process to the court and asked for sympathy.

Born in l913, Charles Dederich's alcoholism took him through failed marriages and lost jobs to the doorsteps of AA, where he became a fanatical believer. The insights he believed he gained during a l956 UCLA experiment on the effects of LSD on alcoholics transformed his AA sermons into intricate psychological and philosophical analyses.

He developed his own following and started a storefront club in seedy Ocean Park. When drug users started joining the ex-drinkers departed and Synanon--the first self-help drug rehab--was born in l958. Through rough and tough group sessions-ultimately called the "game"-past behavior was attacked and modified. Newcomers were taught to "Act as If" everything demanded of them was right and cruel punishments were dished out for negative behavior. Early books made comparisons to Lifton's work on thought reform and Dederich did not deny the accusation, instead proclaiming that addicts' minds were dirty and needed "washing."

Early on, the process fascinated the media and politicians. One Congressman called Synanon the "Miracle on the Beach." By selling goods by pleading with the public to "buy from us and save a life" and gaining large donations from Fortune 500 companies, Synanon grew in wealth and political influence. Believing dope fiends would revert if they left, Dederich in l967 purchased land in Marin County to build a utopia he called Synanon City; he later developed a second one in the Badger Mountains outside of Visalia. He recruited non-addicts-middle class, professional "squares"-by convincing them they could participate in man's evolution and be the first to reach the 21st Century. He developed the Synanon Trip, the predecessor to modern self-help training sessions, a 48-hour experience designed to make the participants break emotionally and see Synanon and Dederich as their savior. Versions of the game grew to 72 hours and longer to override resistance and "squeeze" members to his will. Synanon practiced containment--allowing members as few contacts with the outside world as possible. Meanwhile, they were continually blasted with Dederich's tape-recorded speeches via the wire, an enclosed broadcasting system that reached into every nook of the complex. Members shaved their heads and wore overalls--men, women and children.

Predictably, the organization's practices turned increasingly bizarre. After banning sugar and smoking, in l976 Dederich decided that children interfered with Synanon goals and all pregnancies were aborted and all adult males--himself excluded--had vasectomies. Resisters were put into long games and harangued until they broke. After his wife died of cancer in 1977, he interviewed women for the position of his fourth wife and ordered all Synanon couples to dissolve and take new mates for three years to share in his experience.

As the group grew more insular, it grew more violent. In 1974 Dederich allowed members to strike disobedient, non-member juveniles sent by probation officers. Soon, perceived enemies were attacked. A rancher and his family, who helped Synanon runaways, were attacked by a mob of Dederich loyalists. Neighboring teenagers who offended the group were likewise beaten by mobs, as were visitors accused of being spies or thieves and a man who wouldn't apologize for a traffic incident.

Dederich converted his best men into "Imperial Marines" at an Al Queda-like training camp, eventually dispatching them on coast-to-coast "missions" against perceived enemies. Dederich soon declared an official "holy war" against enemies wherein followers were encouraged to make violent attacks for which Synanon would deny responsibility while warning the public its uncontrollable residents might escalate to throwing bombs into the homes of those who criticize the organization. A man trying to get his child out was beaten with mallets in front of his home and almost died.

That war eventually came to my doorstep. After I had instituted litigation against Synanon, which resulted in a money verdict and the removal of several children from the compound, in October of 1978 two of Dederich's Imperial Marines placed a rattlesnake--sans rattles--in my mailbox. Only 11 vials of antivenom saved my life. A police raid of the commune uncovered a tape-entitled "New Religious Posture--Don't Fuck with Synanon"--of a jovial Dederich, rejoicing over past beatings and declaring that he wanted people to know that if they messed with Synanon in any way, they could end up "physically dead." Those around him mimicked for approval, reminiscent of a recent video found in Afghanistan.

Did the Marines who put the snake in my mailbox deserve any sympathy? One, just a 20-year old boy, had been placed in Synanon at age 11 by his famous, band-touring father. At 18 he was first to volunteer for a vasectomy and the youngest of the Marines. I had no doubt this boy would never have been convicted of a crime if he hadn't been placed there and would live a good life if removed. At my urging, he was sentenced to just one year in jail, as long as he didn't associate with anyone from Synanon after he was released. He went on to live a normal life. Synanon eventually mutated back into a non-violent society, removing Dederich from power, but unpaid back taxes assessed retroactively for doing violence ultimately ended the community. Dederich lived his last years alone with his wife, dying in l997.

Much like PFI, Synanon did work for some people.  That doesn't excuse Synanon from being termed a highly spiritually abusive group, nor should it dissuade people from pointing out how PFI shows characteristics of spiritual abuse.

7) Finally, in rebuttal to your claims that we are essentially on a jihad against "Evangelicals"; no, we are not.  There are actually quite a few people on this group who would argue the point quite vehemently with you--among others, several of the site administrators.  (Trust me, among other things, "Mainstream Baptist" would have quite a few words with you on that!)

What we are against is people who misuse the Bible to put into place a coercive mindset, and who especially wish to use the power of the government to do so.

Again, I'll ask--have you actually read the site guidelines and are you in agreement with them?

If not, why are you here in the first place?  Anything here is probably just going to make you angry.  It's a big Web out there; there are certainly pages willing to happily stump for Colson and even do some flagwaving.

If you're here and have specific rebuttals, all good.  You don't have to agree.  All we ask is that you be civil and not try to troll.  (And yes, that includes flaming the entire membership accusing us of trying to "damn the evangelicals".)

by dogemperor on Sun Jun 11, 2006 at 12:45:46 PM EST

    Why did I visit the "Talk2Action" website? I was invited onto the site by one of the writers. And I'm not "trolling" or "astroturfing". I don't even know what those things mean, unless you're talking about fishing or a baseball field. I simply responded to your rebuttal which mischaracterized some of my points. I can't do that?        
     And the scripture you were wondering about is "do onto others as you would have them do unto you". Also Romans 2:1 speaks  to people who want to apply a low standard of behavior to themselves and a high standard to others.
     I think it's pretty clear you have an agenda and that's fine. It's a free country. But, there seems to be a degree of certitude to the mission you're on that's just as steadfast as any "Dominionist". You're going to use your research to justify whatever ends you want to, even if it's based on circular reasoning and even when it clearly contradicts what people know to be true about the public figures you're critiquing, including Chuck Colson. I just don't think that's intellectually honest. (And I'm making too much of Watergate? This from the people who are still talking about Watergate like it happened last week? Please.)
     I've said nothing uncivil, as anyone who reads my posts can see. Unless you consider my disagreeing with your methods uncivil, or unless you count my little tongue-in-cheek comments about Jesse Jackson and my suggestion that you've turned the golden rule on it's head. What I've said about you is pretty innocuous in comparison to your efforts to turn Colson, a well respected guy, into Darth Vader.
     I'd also say that the eagerness with which you throw the race card at others on the other side of the idiological divide from yourself is simply too convenient and predictable. And if you truly gave a hoot about exposing or feretting out racists in our society you would go after all of them, not just the ones you think are on the conservative side. That's just too much of a coincidence.    
    If you are going to publicly attack people's character, isn't it reasonable to expect people to ask some tough questions of you? I guess I thought you liberals were all about the free and open exchange of ideas. My bad. Maybe you guys just want a web site where everybody agrees with you. That's fine. I can take a hint. Thanks one last time and God Bless.  

by Dave W on Sun Jun 11, 2006 at 11:14:38 PM EST
Firstly, I'm not quite sure how asking if you have in fact read the guidelines for the site is inflammatory.  Even if you were invited--and this is all well and good--we are welcoming of debate so long as the rules of the forum are followed.  And yes, some of the regulars have to be called down on this on occasion too.

Anyways, the only agenda I personally have is to prevent the same parties who have harmed--physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually--myself and thousands of people like myself from getting power (especially politically) to harm other people.

It is not a war against evangelicals (there are quite a number of evangelicals I deeply respect who are not dominionists--Jimmy Carter and Robert Bakker, for starters, as well as "Mainstream Baptist" on this site).

I can't speak for others.  In my case, the only agenda I have is to inform people of abusive tactics that are used in the dominionist movement (note I stated dominionist, not evangelical), show how they are harmful, and work with others to make sure that the persons committing abuse never have the power to make that abuse protected or even mandated under colour of law.

If this makes me seem argumentative, I apologise.  I wish you no ill will.

And again, I'll note that all statements I have made re Colson have been researched before I ever post them.  If anything, I tend to aggressively research before posting anything on these boards, because (again, as a walkaway) for years people would claim (and sadly, to some extent, still do) that people who suffered religious abuse were making the whole deal up.  Part of why I do pieces on things like religious abuse is to help people be aware and know we aren't making this up.

My final question to you is this--in regards to the evidence I have shown you, quite bluntly, in regards to spiritually abusive behaviour within the PFI program (and honestly, to me, it would not matter if Colson, Billy Graham, or the dead corpses of John Paul II or Mother Theresa were running them--my concern is the abuse) you believe that this sort of thing is abusive or, for that matter, good for prisoners?

If you do not consider it abusive, why not?

by dogemperor on Mon Jun 12, 2006 at 07:52:21 AM EST

I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. Thanks...
For me best travel

by shaka22 on Sun Apr 14, 2019 at 07:30:18 AM EST

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