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8th Circuit Finds Prison Ministry Unconstitutional

ST. LOUIS (CN) - The 8th Circuit held thatIowa's funding of anevangelical Christian prison ministry violates the Constitution's separation of church and state clause.

The circuit upheld the ruling of U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt, who found that the Prison Fellowship Ministries Inc. program at the New Correctional Facility unconstitutionally used public funds to endorse religion. Prison Fellowship contracts with InnerChange Freedom Initiatives and other organizations to provide voluntary programs based on biblical values.

"Because the indoctrination and definition criteria indicate that InnerChange had the effect of advancing or endorsing religion during the contract years 2000 to 2004, the direct aid to InnerChange violated the Establishment clauses of the United States and Iowa Constitutions," Judge Benton wrote.

Charles Colson, special counsel to President Richard Nixon, founded Prison Fellowship after spending seven months in prison in 1975 for crimes related to the Watergate scandal. The organization operates nine programs in six states: Iowa, Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri and Texas. Its president, Mark Early, told the Associated Press that the program will continue under private funding. See ruling.

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