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Program shackled

Religion | Iowa judge orders Prison Fellowship to end successful program

Issue: "Death blow," June 17, 2006

It doesn't matter that Prison Fellowship's InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) has had remarkable success at turning around criminals and returning them more stable and productive to their families and society. It's a religious-oriented program that is partly funded with government money, and that makes it unconstitutional and unlawful.

That was the upshot of a 140-page decision issued this month by U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt in Iowa. He ordered IFI to shut down its 6-year-old program serving 210 inmates at a prison in Newton, Iowa, within 60 days and return the $1.5 million it received in government contracts.

Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson and president Mark Early, a former Virginia attorney general, say they will appeal to the 8th Circuit and, if necessary, to the U.S. Supreme Court. IFI can keep working during the appeal process.

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Mr. Early said the group has spent $1 million so far this year on the lawsuit. Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed the suit three years ago. It is part of AU's campaign to outlaw President Bush's faith-based-initiative policies.

Studies show that nationally, 67 percent of some 700,000 prisoners released annually become repeat offenders within three years, and 50 percent return to prison. No long-term studies are available for IFI graduates, but IFI officials say their preliminary figures show a recidivism rate under 15 percent.

Journey to Catholicism

Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, left his evangelical moorings and quietly joined the Roman Catholic Church. Now a Republican candidate for the Florida Senate, Mr. Terry heads an entity known as the Society for Truth and Justice.

In a delayed disclosure, he told the National Catholic Register he was finally able to surmount the "theological hurdles" of papal infallibility, Marian dogma, and purgatory. He was confirmed in the faith by a long-time priest friend during Easter week at a church in Binghamton, N.Y.

Mr. Terry, 46, founded Operation Rescue in 1987 and led it for its first seven years. He was arrested more than 40 times during civil-disobedience protests at abortion centers, and served jail sentences. Lawsuits stemming from those protests forced him into bankruptcy in 1998.

He divorced his first wife in 2000, after 19 years, three children, and "many problems from the outset." He left Landmark Church in Binghamton and joined the Charismatic Episcopal Church. He remarried, had three more children, and adopted three others. He is seeking an annulment of his first marriage in order to receive Catholic communion.

Bulletin Board

Nearly half of Americans-46 percent-believe that human beings did not evolve, but were created by God in their present form within the last 10,000 years or so, a new Gallup survey of American beliefs on evolution suggests. By contrast, only 13 percent chose the answer: "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process."

Amid vigorous debate and warnings of schism, the national Church of Scotland-affectionately known among Presbyterians as "the Kirk"-opened the way for its clergy to bless same-sex unions. Its general assembly voted 372 to 240 last month to endorse the principle that individual clergy have the freedom to bless couples in civil partnerships. Opponents, however, succeeded in delaying final approval by requiring ratification of the move by the Kirk's 46 presbyteries over the next year.

The former treasurer and chief financial officer of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, Ron Null, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for embezzling more than $750,000 over nine years on the job.

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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