It's a court case that could have major implications for President Bush's faith-based initiative: Is an evangelical Christian prison rehabilitation program, paid for by taxpayer dollars, constitutional?
The answer, issued by a federal district judge in Iowa on June 2, was a resounding "no."
Judge Robert Pratt found that the InnerChange program run by Prison Fellowship Ministries in an Iowa prison was "pervasively sectarian" and that the facts "leave no room to doubt that the state of Iowa is excessively entangled with religion" through the program.
The decision, which will be appealed, is a major victory for those who believe America has gone too far in supporting religious or semireligious activities using public money.
But given the broad spectrum of faith-based organizations that offer programs tackling social ills from substance dependency to illiteracy, the decision also raises questions over where to draw the line of demarcation when it comes to mixing religion and social services, and whether there's a right way and a wrong way for the government to encourage the involvement of faith-based groups.
The judge criticized the lack of real choice on the part of inmates who wanted a similar, nonsectarian option, and the fact that prisoners were offered a variety of special privileges and incentives to join InnerChange, such as better cells and special visitation rights. Mr. Pratt ordered Prison Fellowship Ministries, which runs the program, to repay the $1.5 million it received from the state and to terminate the program within 60 days.