Court rules against "faith based coercion" programs
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.
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:
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.
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:
(Note the extensive scripture-twisting. The full text is as follows (per the EText archive of the Revised Standard Version:
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:
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.
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.
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.
Court rules against "faith based coercion" programs | 21 comments (21 topical, 0 hidden)
Court rules against "faith based coercion" programs | 21 comments (21 topical, 0 hidden)