A judge has rejected the complaints of a New York-based atheist organization and ruled that two Christian organizations in Florida can continue helping newly released prisoners.
Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God Ministries are two faith-based organizations that assist former prisoners adjusting to life outside prison. The ministries provide food, housing, employment support, and other assistance to recently released prisoners.
They also give support to former prisoners to stay clean of drugs and aid in their transition to independent living and societal reintegration, helping to reduce the numbers of people who relapse into criminal behavior.
Participation in any of the programs offered through the ministries is voluntary, and the ministries serve people of any or no faith. Both organizations comply with their contract with the Florida Department of Correction, which requires that they not use state funds to proselytize. The ministries provide their services at little cost to the government, saving taxpayers money.
Yet the New York-based atheist group, the Center for Inquiry, has spent years trying to stop these ministries from receiving government funding. In a lawsuit originally filed in 2007, the Center for Inquiry argued that because of their religious affiliation, state funding of the ministries violated Florida’s “Blaine Amendment,” a state constitutional provision banning direct and indirect funding of “sectarian” organizations.
After nine years of legal fighting, Circuit Judge George Reynolds ruled last week that Prisoners for Christ and Lamb of God Ministries can continue working with the government to assist prisoners.
According to Lori Windham, senior legal counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the ministries:
The Court was right to reject a discriminatory attempt to punish successful prisoner ministries simply because they were run by religiously-inspired people. Former prisoners need help, and it’s wrong to stop people who are helping just because naysayers on the sidelines don’t like religion.
Windham is right. The government should not discriminate against organizations that aid prisoners simply because their motivation in providing this aid is religious. Religious groups that provide valuable social services within communities, often with better results at a lower cost, should not be forced out of helping others by the government. The fact that these organizations are founded on Christian principles should not disqualify them from government funding, particularly when participation in their programs is open to all, regardless of religion.
Both those struggling to get back on their feet after their release and the communities that they return to benefit from programs that give offenders the best chance at once again becoming contributing citizens. Thankfully, Prisoners for Christ and Lamb of God Ministries will be allowed to continue to serve those in need, motivated by their faith.