Moeller v. Bradford County

Last modified 2011.09.15

  • Status Closed
  • Type Counsel
  • Court U.S. District Court
  • Issues Racial Equality, Religious Minorities, Taxpayer Funding of Religion

On February 17, 2005, Americans United, joined by the ACLU of Pennsylvania and subsequently by the national law firm of Arnold & Porter LLP, filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of multiple Pennsylvania taxpayers and a former inmate of the Bradford County jail against the U.S. Attorney General, a Pennsylvania state agency, Bradford County, and a private organization called the Firm Foundation.

The Firm Foundation ran a religious vocational-training program for inmates in the Bradford County jail. The program was funded almost entirely by the U.S. Department of Justice and Pennsylvania state and local governmental bodies. The Firm Foundation described its program as a “prison ministry.” Program staff were required to be “believer[s] in Christ and Christian Life today” and to “shar[e] these ideals when opportunity arises.” Program staff proselytized inmates in the Firm Foundation’s religious beliefs, and inmates were pressured to take part in prayer.

After we filed the case, the defendants filed several motions to dismiss our claims. The district court denied the motions in large part, issuing several favorable published opinions that we can cite in other cases. During the course of the litigation, the Firm Foundation’s funding ran out and the program ceased its operations.

In the Fall of 2006 and Winter of 2006-07, we conducted discovery.

On April 2, 2007, we entered into a settlement with Bradford County that (1) requires the County’s agreements with private contractors to contain strict restrictions against the use of public funds to aid religion, and (2) requires the County to monitor intensively any faith-based organization it funds to ensure compliance with those restrictions. On June 4, 2007, we entered into a similar settlement with the state agency that had provided funding to the Firm Foundation. On June 8, 2007, the remaining claims in the litigation were dismissed, concluding the case.

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