Federal appeals court rules state funding for faith-based program unconstitutional

[JURIST] A panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] that included retired US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor ruled [opinion text] Monday that using taxpayer money to fund a faith-based treatment program in a state jail is unconstitutional. The voluntary program, the InnerChange Freedom Initiative [advocacy website], immerses prisoners in evangelical Christianity by requiring participants to engage in Bible study, religious revivals, and church services. The program has operated at Iowa's minimum security Newton Correctional Facility since 1999. The lawsuit was brought against InnerChange by inmates, taxpayers, inmate relatives and Americans United for Separation of Church and State [advocate website]. The appellate court found that Iowa's direct financial aid to InnerChange between 2000 and 2004 violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The appellate court broadly affirmed a district court holding [JURIST report] that InnerChange was 'permanently enjoined from further operation at the Newton Facility, or any other institution within the Iowas Dept. of Corrections, so long as it is supported by government funding', but reversed in part holding that the the lower court 'abused its discretion in granting recoupment for services rendered before its order.' InnerPeace is therefore no longer required to repay the state funds received under all the contracts. InnerPeace welcomed the ruling in a press release, noting that the original injunction no longer applies to it as its Iowa program is no longer partially funded by the state. The Des Moines Register has more.



 

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