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PattiTheWicked
06-01-2005, 06:09 PM
I thought this was very interesting, since it stems from a case right here in my home state.

nbc4i.com - News - Supreme Court Sides With Witch, Satanist, Racial Separatist (http://www.nbc4i.com/news/4552170/detail.html)
Prisons Must Accommodate Religious Affiliations


POSTED: 6:19 pm EDT May 31, 2005


WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court sided with a witch, a Satanist and a racial separatist Tuesday, upholding, in an Ohio case, a federal law requiring state prisons to accommodate the religious affiliations of inmates.

The three Ohio prisoners sued under the 2000 federal law, claiming they were denied access to religious literature and ceremonial items and denied time to worship.

The law says states that receive federal money must accommodate prisoners' religious beliefs, with such things as special haircuts or meals, unless wardens can show that the government has a compelling reason not to.

The court's unanimous ruling addressed a narrow issue: whether the law as written is an unconstitutional government promotion of religion. It is not, justices decided, leaving the door open to future legal challenges on other grounds.

"Religion plays a vital role in rehabilitation," said Derek Gaubatz, director of litigation for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a religious liberty law firm that represents inmates.

Many states have contested the law on grounds that inmate requests could make it harder to manage prisons, and the court appeared concerned as well.

The law "does not elevate accommodation of religious observances over an institution's need to maintain order and safety," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said from the bench in announcing the decision.

Ginsburg said judges who handle inmate cases should give deference to prison administrators.

"I think this was a net win for the prisons," said Marci Hamilton, a church-state scholar at Cardoza School of Law.

Douglas Cole, Ohio's solicitor, said that the ruling could inspire more inmate demands. However, he said, "we're encouraged that the court recognized that these inmate religious practices can pose significant safety concerns for prison administrators."

Andrea Dean, spokeswoman for the state prisons department, said the ruling was under review and officials had not determined what steps to take to comply.

Tuesday's decision overturns a ruling by the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had struck down part of the law, called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, on grounds it violated the separation of church and state.

Ohio will likely continue its challenge to the law, Cole said.

Elizabeth Cooke, a clinical law professor at Ohio State University who represented inmates in the court case, said they will press ahead with accommodation requests, including a five-point star for the witch, called a Wiccan, and hammer charms for prisoners who are members of Asatru and worship old Norse deities.

"Inmates who practice non-mainstream religions have suffered," Cooke said.



The case is Cutter v. Wilkinson, 03-9877.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press (http://www.nbc4i.com/news/2455821/detail.html). All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

Sarita
06-01-2005, 07:19 PM
Patti- This article is really interesting and it brings up a host of other issues. Some of them for me are:

-Should religion have a place at all in prison? Some inmates might be using religion as an easy way out (good conduct, early parole) where as others might be sincere. Some religious groups might take advantage of the captive audience and preach relentlessly to inmates. But if it helps to reform inmates, then... which leads me to my next question.

-Does religion really help to reform prisoners? I bet it does. I've read cases where inmates have accepted some faith or another and became better people for it. But how many cases were life long reform? I'd love to see data on this. I might have to do some digging today!

-Where do you draw the line for articles needed in practice? If someone can use some religious article to aid in violence, what's going to stop them from asking for it? And you can argue supervision, but if it's overly supervised, how can that be spiritual experience? It looks like part of this ruling has the same concerns.

Sorry, just babbling. :) I am glad that this seems to be going the right direction... all religions getting equal treatment.

robeiae
06-01-2005, 08:28 PM
-Does religion really help to reform prisoners? I bet it does. I've read cases where inmates have accepted some faith or another and became better people for it. But how many cases were life long reform? I'd love to see data on this. I might have to do some digging today!

Mmmm...

Be careful. As a rule, I distrust statistics...as an axiom, I find them invalid whenever they are overtly tied to an agenda. I think you'll find almost all data on "reforming prisoners" to be of this latter sort (one side or the other).

The problem is, there is no control for such studies. Prisoner A gets religion, becomes a better person...Prisoner B doesn't get religion, remains a scumbag; there is no way to prove religion had anything to do with the change. There can be correlation, but this does not indicate cause. It could be that Prisoner A got religion after he became a better person...

Rob :)

Sarita
06-01-2005, 08:48 PM
Be careful. As a rule, I distrust statistics...as an axiom, I find them invalid whenever they are overtly tied to an agenda. I think you'll find almost all data on "reforming prisoners" to be of this latter sort (one side or the other).

haha! I'm a market research analyst. I guess I'm in trouble!

Actually I distrust most of my line of work too. It is hard to find data that isn't based in agenda. After all, isn't that why companies do these studies? To affirm what they know? It is the rare company, indeed, that comes to us just asking for the facts. That being said, I have access to reports and raw data that most don't... pure raw numbers without the spin. (not sure if I have anything on this topic, but we'll see)


It could be that Prisoner A got religion after he became a better person... Which I suspect is usually the case.

PattiTheWicked
06-02-2005, 07:57 PM
-Should religion have a place at all in prison? Some inmates might be using religion as an easy way out (good conduct, early parole) where as others might be sincere. Some religious groups might take advantage of the captive audience and preach relentlessly to inmates. But if it helps to reform inmates, then... which leads me to my next question.



I think religion is one of those things that can have a place in prisons -- as in any other institution -- as long as it (1) lends some comfort or peace to those who practice it and (2) doesn't infringe or intrude upon the rights of those who don't practice it. I don't think it should be used as an excuse for bad behavior, or as an early out ("I found ___ and now I feel really bad about killing those eighteen people.") Someone convicted of a crime should serve out their sentence regardless of religion or lack thereof.

As to articles needed for practice -- that's a gray area. While an athame might be a perfectly legitimate spiritual tool for a prisoner (it is for me), the fact remains that it's also a sharp pointy object which could be uised as a weapon against other inmates. On the other hand, if the athame is kept under lock and key, released to the practitioner at a designated time, and then returned to its safe place... well, maybe that's a viable alternative. Likewise, what about the use of candles and an open flame? A sword? I'd hate to see anyone's rights intruded upon, but in a prison situation where violence is a fact of life, it's tough to say, "Okay, prisoner A can have use candles and a sword as part of his religious practice, but prisoner B's religion doesn't call for those things, so he can't use them."

Regardless, I'm glad to see that the supreme court has decided the prisoners have the right to practice non-mainstream religions if they so choose. In an era when our administration is hell-bent on restricting anything that's considered a "nontraditional value", this is a refreshing change.