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Americans United for Separation of Church and State Letter Re Oklahoma Christian Private Prison 2010

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May 25, 2010

Via U.s. Mail and Facsimile
Robert E. Christian, Executive Director
Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs
3812 N. Santa Fe, Suite 400
P.O. Box 268812
Oklahoma City, OK 73126
Fax: (405) 530-2890


for S

aration of
and State

518 C Street, N .E.

RE: Christian Private Prison

Washington, D.C. 20002
(202) 466-3234 phone

Dear Mr. Christian:
(202) 466-2587 fax

As you know, the prison ministry Corrections Concepts, Inc is pursuing a
faith-based prison project for which it is currently recruiting inmates. See Bill
Sherman, A faith-based prison is pushed, TULSA WORLD, Nov. 2, 2009, at AI. The
proposed prison would require inmates to participate in a Christ-centered curriculum
and would elnploy only Christian staff. Id. \Ve have received assurances that the
Oklahoma Department of Corrections will not be sending prisoners to the proposed
institution, but recent news reports indicate that your agency plans to make a request
for budget proposals to house juvenile inmates at the facility. See Bill Sherman,
lvfinistry 'sprison plan still on hold, TULSA WORLD, Iviay 17,2010, at AI. We write
to inform you that housing inmates at the faith-based prison would likely violate the
Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Constitution's Establishment Clause prohibits the provision of public aid for religious
activity, such as religious worship or instruction. See Mitchell v. Helms, 530 U.S. 793, 840-41, 857,
861 (2000) (O'Connor, 1., concurring)\ Bowen v. Kendrick, 487 U.S. 589,621 (1988); Roemer v.
Bd. ofPub. Works, 426 U.S. 736, 754-55 (1976); Hunt v. McNair, 413 U.S. 734, 743 (1973). The
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit relied on this principle to strike down a program very
similar to this one in Americans United for Separation ofChurch and State v. Prison Fellowship
Ministries, 509 F.3d 406 (8th Cir. 2007). There, the state of Iowa provided funding to a private
company for the operation of a faith-based program (the "InnerChange Freedom Initiative") housed
in one wing of a state prison. That program, as here, was voluntary and featured a Christ-centered
curriculum. Id. at 415. The court held that the provision of financial and material aid for
InnerChange - including both direct payments and per diem payments - violated the
Establishment Clause because the religious elements of the program were so pervasive that the
government's aid supported the indoctrination of inmates. Id. at 423- 26. If the Office of Juvenile

Federal appellate courts have agreed that Justice O'Connor's concurrence, and not the
plurality opinion, represents the holdings of Mitchell. See Cmty. House, Inc. v. City ofBoise, 490
F.3d 1041, 1058 (9th Cir. 2007); Columbia Union Coli. v. Oliver, 254 F.3d 496,504 n.1 (4th Cif.
2001); DeStefano v. Emergency Hous. Group, Inc., 247 F.3d 397, 418 (2d Cir. 2001); Johnson v.
Econ. Dev. Corp., 241 F.3d 501,510 n.2 (6th Cir. 2001).

lOur voice in the battle to preserve religious liberty

Affairs were to provide funding to Corrections Concepts' prison, indoctrination would be the
inevitable result, just as it was in Prison Fellowship Ministries. And, just as inevitably, the funding
of such indoctrination would violate the Constitution.
Accordingly, we ask that you decline to send prisoners to Corrections Concepts, Inc.' s
proposed faith-based institution. We would appreciate a response to this letter within thirty days to
advise us ofyour plans. You may contact Ian Smith at (202) 466-3234 or ismith@au.orgifyouhave
any further questions about this request.
Very truly yours,

Ayesha N. Khan, Legal Director
Ian Smith, Staff Attorney