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Appeals Court Says State Funding of InnerChange Unconstitutional

But ruling allows the ministry to continue operating without returning $1.5 million to the state.

The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Iowa's InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) yesterday, saying that they could no longer receive funds from the state because the religious basis and religious content of the program violate the Constitution's establishment clause.

"For contract years 2000 to 2004, religious indoctrination can reasonably be attributed to Iowa's funding." The three-judge panel, headed by former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor, affirmed the Iowa district court's June 2006 ruling in part and reversed it in part.

InnerChange is an affiliate of Charles Colson's Prison Fellowship. It's a residential program for inmates and operates in Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Texas. Only the Iowa program is directly affected by yesterday's ruling.

Neither the Americans United for Separation of Church and State (the plaintiffs) nor Prison Fellowship considers the ruling a loss - just read their press release headlines. IFI's says, "8th Circuit Overturns Much of Ruling Against IFI," and Americans United's subtitle reads, "Americans United Praises Court Ruling That Upholds Separation Of Church And State."

Why are they both happy? Americans United lawyer Alex J. Luchenitser, said that the decision was "A major setback for the White House's ?Faith-Based Initiative.' It reaffirms that the government must ensure that public funds are not used for religious instruction, and that the government must not aid programs that discriminate based on religion."

Prison Fellowship is "grateful to the Eighth Circuit for refusing to handcuff people of faith who are helping corrections officials turn inmates' lives around," said Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley. They are specifically grateful because Monday's ruling overturned the district court's requirement that InnerChange repay the state $1.5 million for the years (1999 ? June 2007) when it operated with state funding. IFI has continued to operate in Iowa without state funds since July.

The court ruling has more details on how exactly IFI functioned in the Iowa prison.

Christianity Today's earlier coverage includes:

Rx for Recidivism | Prison Fellowship president Mark Earley talks about challenges the ministry faces. (November 21, 2006)

Bad Judgment | Ruling imperils faith-based programs around the country. (Charles Colson with Anne Morse, August 1, 2006)

Imprisoned Ministry | The future of Prison Fellowship's rehabilitation program, and other faith-based social services, are in the hands of an appeals court. (July 14, 2006)

Study Lauds Prisoner Program | Prison Fellowship releases InnerChange research at a White House roundtable. (June 1, 2003)

Suing Success | Prison Fellowship says its Inner Change program is clearly constitutional (March 1, 2003)

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