November 2007 Church & State | AU Bulletin

An Iowa prisoner’s religious liberty rights were violated when officials punished him for refusing to work on Saturdays, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In an Oct. 3 letter to the Iowa Department of Justice, Americans United argued that officials at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center at Oakdale were in error when they penalized inmate Mark Condit. Condit was punished with the loss of 10 days of good time after he refused to work on Saturdays. A Seventh-day Adventist, he cited his religious beliefs for his refusal to work in the Oakdale center’s kitchen on Saturday.

Citing the First Amendment’s free exercise clause and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, Ameri­cans United maintained that prison officials are barred from punishing an inmate for refusing to perform work that violates his religious beliefs, unless there is a compelling governmental interest.

Americans United noted that at two previous jobs within the state prison system, Condit had been accommodated by prison officials. All prisoners employed in the Oakdale prison system are given two days off each week, AU argued, “so one of Mr. Condit’s days off easily could have been Saturday.”

Americans United asked the state justice department to return Condit’s accumulated days of good time and rid his prison record of a disciplinary report related to the incident.