July/August 2007 Church & State | AU Bulletin

Iowa lawmakers have decided to halt public funding of an evangelical Christian prison ministry that a federal judge found unconstitutional.

In May, the Iowa legislature approved a bill eliminating $310,000 in state funds for InnerChange, a Prison Fellowship Ministry program that inculcates inmates with evangelical Christianity. The program has been operating for years in the state’s Newton prison.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, representing former and current inmates and their families, sued in 2005 arguing that funding of the prison program violates the First Amendment. Last year, U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt agreed with Americans United and ruled that InnerChange is a religious conversion program that may not be supported with tax dollars.

Representatives of Prison Fellowship, a group founded by Charles Colson, told the media that they would seek private dollars to keep the prison program at Newton in operation.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, told The Des Moines Register, “The good news is that the Iowa legislature and the governor understand that this program generates significant constitutional problems.”

AU attorneys believe the defending of InnerChange will not affect the lawsuit against it. A decision by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected soon.