Faith-based program at jail criticized

Jan. 28—GREENSBURG — An organization known as the Freedom From Religion Foundation is taking exception to religious-based programming available to inmates at the Decatur County Jail.

An email the Daily News received from the FFRF notes that "on December 29 the Decatur County Sheriff's Facebook page posted a series of photographs displaying Decatur County Detention Center inmates being baptized. The post shows a clear association with Christianity, reading, 'Over the past four years, nearly 300 men and women have given their life to Jesus Christ while incarcerated at the Decatur County Detention Center. All glory to GOD!' The demeaning religious ceremonies take place in an unhygienic shared tub and are led by a Christian evangelizing group."

The FFRF alleges the program in question, known as Residents Encountering Christ (REC), violates the First Amendment.

The email from the FFRF states that it is a basic tenet of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that the government is prohibited from taking action that advances, shows preference for, or coerces individuals to participate in religion and that the Establishment Clause prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages.

"By holding sectarian religious events in the Decatur County Detention Center, the sheriff's department shows a clear allegiance to the Christian religion, putting the department in direct violation of the Establishment Clause," the email continues. "Prisoners will feel pressured to participate in these events when the sheriff himself is organizing them, creating a literal captive audience ..."

It should be noted that Sheriff Dave Durant was still in office on December 29 and that he is largely responsible for the REC program being established at the local detention center.

It should also be noted that current Sheriff Bill Meyerrose has indicated he intends to continue making the REC program available to local inmates.

When contacted about the FFRF's concerns, Sheriff Meyerrose said the Decatur County Detention Center strives to provide programming, both faith based and evidence based, to every inmate that desires it.

"We are working hard to balance the demands of the First Amendment by allowing inmates the right to exercise their religion while not using the power of this office to promote a certain religion," Sheriff Meyerrose said.

The sheriff said all requests from inmates to exercise their religion will be administered by standards set forth by the Indiana Department of Correction.

As for the Residents Encountering Christ program specifically, Sheriff Meyerrose said, "The Decatur County Detention Center will continue to provide this program should community volunteers choose to request to provide the program. Inmates will not be required or forced to attend and attendance will be strictly voluntary. Further, this program will be facilitated solely by volunteers and not Decatur County Detention staff."

According to Wikipedia, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is an American nonprofit organization which advocates for atheists, agnostics, and nontheists. Formed in 1976, FFRF promotes the separation of church and state, and challenges the legitimacy of many federal and state programs that are faith-based.

The FFRF says it has more than 39,000 members and several chapters across the country including more than 500 members and a local chapter in Indiana.

The organization is headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin.