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Prison Chaplain Wins Standoff with BOP Over Carrying Pepper Spray

by Monte McCoin

Rev. Ronald Apollo, head chaplain at FCI Bennettsville, a medium-security federal prison in South Carolina, prevailed against the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in his challenge to a 2015 order that effectively prevented him from carrying out his ministerial duties. Apollo, who is a member of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith and eschews “the weapons of human strife,” was assigned to a desk job and prohibited from face-to-face contact with prisoners when he refused to arm himself with oleoresin capsicum – pepper spray – while meeting with and counseling prisoners.

The BOP’s policy required Rev. Apollo, and “any officer or employee of Bureau of Prisons who is employed in a prison that is not a minimum or low security prison,” to carry OC spray while interacting with prisoners. Apollo and two subordinate chaplains at FCI Bennettsville appealed to the facility’s warden and BOP officials, but were told they had to comply with the directive.

Both Rev. Apollo and the Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance in cases where it believes Christian values and religious freedoms are being violated, opined that the policy “created a barrier of trust and openness with the people [Apollo was] ministering to,” adding that unarmed chaplains held a position of trust among prisoners and it was “almost unheard of for chaplains to be subjected to assault by inmates.”

After strongly-worded criticism from the Liberty Counsel, the BOP announced the reversal of the OC directive in January 2018.

“Now we are able to work on a level to do everything we could do before, in the same capacity, exactly how we were doing it before when OC spray was never an issue,” Apollo stated. 



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