Colson Brigade Now Says They Don’t Want Tax Money!
Americans United battled tax funding of a fundamentalist Christian program in an Iowa prison for five years, winning rulings from two federal courts declaring public support for the sectarian approach unconstitutional.
The case came to an official end April 9, the final deadline for Prison Fellowship Ministries to appeal to the Supreme Court. The group chose not to do so, and its reaction to the litigation has been very interesting.
Mark Earley, Prison Fellowship president, told Christianity Today that the ruling against his group is actually useful because it clarifies what type of funding the program, called the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI), can receive. He added that it’s “just easier” for IFI to stick to private funding.
Americans United could have told Earley that five years ago. In fact, we did.
In the face of Earley’s spin, it’s worth recalling that Prison Fellowship fought Americans United tooth and nail over this case. After U.S. District Judge Robert W. Pratt ruled in AU’s favor in June of 2006, Prison Fellowship tried to portray him as a religious bigot.
When the case reached the appeals court, Earley and his associates launched a media offensive, arguing that AU was trying to shut down an effective program that rehabilitates prisoners.
At one point, Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson said AU’s lawsuit effectively encouraged inmates to convert into Islamic terrorists and said AU’s Barry Lynn was “blind” to that outcome.
Now they’re claiming they never wanted tax money and are saying AU’s victory is no big deal. It’s really quite beyond belief.
AU’s victory is a big deal, and here’s why: Prison Fellowship proselytizers wanted public support for their fundamentalist evangelism behind bars.
They tried to claim the program was open to inmates of all faith perspectives, but Catholic, Muslim, Native American and gay inmates felt constantly pressured to conform to fundamentalist Christianity.
Fellowship leaders wanted all taxpayers to subsidize the spread of their religion.
AU put a stop to it. Our victory was not a narrow one. Rather, we struck a blow against misguided “faith-based” initiatives that seek to force all of us to pay for someone else’s religion.
An old adage holds that when life hands you a lemon, make lemonade. It’s a nice way to be positive about a setback, and it may work for some people.