Pennsylvania Jail Requires Religion With Rehabilitation, ACLU Charges

February 17, 2005 12:00 am

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ACLU of Pennsylvania
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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TOWANDA, PA– The only vocational training program available at a Pennsylvania county jail forces prisoners to participate in religious discussions, religious lectures and prayer, the American Civil Liberties Union charged today in a complaint filed in federal court.

“Incarcerated men and women should not have to subject themselves to religious proselytizing in order to get the skills they need to reenter the workforce,” said Mary Catherine Roper, an attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Giving public dollars to private groups to teach inmates job skills or promote other non-religious services is an important part of this country’s social safety net, but using taxpayer dollars to convert a captive audience is unconstitutional.”

Today’s complaint, filed by the ACLU of Pennsylvania and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, details how the publicly funded Firm Foundation in Bradford County, improperly uses tax dollars in its Christian-centered job training program by pressuring prisoners to engage in prayer and listen to staff proselytizing. The complaint also charges that program administrators discriminate in hiring workers based on their religious beliefs and affiliation.

Federal legislation is currently pending that would allow federallyfunded religious organizations to discriminate based on religion in job training programs. The ACLU supports an amendment to the Job Training Improvement Act (H.R. 27) to restore current law and to continue to defend critical civil rights protections designed to protect employees against religious discrimination.

“There are many examples of religious institutions that use federal funds to provide valuable community services without trying to convert the recipients of those services,” said Clark Moeller, the lead plaintiff and a member of the Bradford County Alliance for Democracy (BCAD). “Unfortunately, the Firm Foundation’s program has not been monitored adequately.”

A BCAD report detailed the First Amendment violations and fiscal mismanagement committed by the Firm Foundation, as well as the lack of federally required fiduciary oversight by the County Commissioners and the Pennsylvania Council on Crime and Delinquency, which funneled federal monies to the program. BCAD published the report last July, and it is available at www.bcad.info

Today’s lawsuit, Moeller, et al. v. Bradford County, et al., was filed in U. S. District Court in Scranton, Penn., by Roper, Witold Walczak and Paula Knudsen of the ACLU of Pennsylvania along with Ayesha Khan, Richard Katskee and Alex Luchenitser of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent the use of government funds for religious activities and religious discrimination, return of funds that have been spent improperly, and better monitoring by federal, state and local officials of grants to faith-based organizations.

For a copy of the complaint, go to: /node/35373

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