Michigan Court Punishes Catholic Man for Refusing Conversion to Pentecostal Faith in Drug Rehab Program

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
July 20, 2004 12:00 am

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ACLU Appeals to Michigan Supreme Court to Reverse Conviction


DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today asked the state Supreme Court to hear the case of a Catholic man who was criminally punished for not completing a Pentecostal drug rehabilitation program, which prevented him from practicing his own religious faith. His request to be transferred to another program that would allow him to practice his own faith was denied and he was sentenced to six months in jail and boot camp.

“This man was punished for insisting on the right to practice his own religion and refusing to be religiously indoctrinated as a condition of a court order,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “The endorsement of any faith as well as the discouragement of any other is clearly a violation of the First Amendment.”

Joseph Hanas of Genesee County, now 22 years old, pled guilty in the Genesee Circuit Court to a charge of marijuana possession in February 2001. He was placed in the county’s “drug court” for non-violent offenders, which allowed for a deferred sentence and possible dismissal of the charges if he successfully completed the Inner City Christian Outreach Residential Program.

Unbeknownst to Hanas when he entered the program, one of the goals of Christian Outreach was to convert him from Catholicism to the Pentecostal faith. According to ACLU legal papers, Hanas was forced to read the bible for seven hours a day and was tested on Pentecostal principles. The staff also told him that Catholicism was a form of witchcraft and they confiscated both his rosary and Holy Communion prayer book. At one point, the program director told his aunt that he “gave up his right of freedom of religion when he was placed into this program.” Hanas was told that in order to complete the program successfully he would have to declare he was “saved” and was threatened that if he didn’t do what the pastor told him to do, he would be “washed of the program and go to prison.”

After seven weeks of being coerced to practice the Pentecostal faith and receiving no drug treatment whatsoever, Hanas left Christian Outreach and requested reassignment to another facility. Despite his request, Judge Robert M. Ransom determined that he did not satisfactorily complete the drug court program and sentenced him to serve three months in jail and three months in boot camp. It was only after his release from boot camp that he finally received drug treatment at a secular residential rehabilitation program.

“I needed help,” Hanas said Joe. “Instead I was forced to practice someone else’s religion.”

Concern over government-funded religion, specifically in the administration of social service programs that may fire or refuse to hire employees if they are not of the same religion, has been increasing in recent years.

“This case underscores the danger of the state mandating participation in a religious institution,” said Greg Gibbs, one of the ACLU cooperating attorneys working on this case. “Mr. Hanas’ free exercise of religion has been greatly jeopardized.”

In addition to Moss and Gibbs, cooperating attorney Frank S. Ravitch and ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg are representing Hanas.

The ACLU’s Application for Leave to Appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court is online at http://www.aclumich.org/pdf/briefs/hanasapplicationtosupremecourt

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