Atheists drop suit to block Christian prison ministry funding

Printed from:

WASHINGTON – An atheist group dropped its attempt to block state funding of faith-based groups’ work with ex-convicts in Florida.

The New York-based group, the Center for Inquiry, declined to appeal a Florida county court ruling on Jan. 20 that let the state fund work by Lamb of God Ministries and Prisoners of Christ. The Christian groups have provided housing, food and job assistance to former prisoners to help reduce recidivism in the Sunshine State for more than two decades.

State programs funded the work by the two organizations at rates of about $14 a day per client to $20 a day per client, according to the January ruling, provided by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The Center sued to prevent the payments in 2007, challenging the payments on grounds that it violated Florida’s prohibition on using public money to finance religious work.

“That staggering claim endangers religious hospitals and all kinds of social service programs,” Lori Windham, the Becket Fund’s senior counsel, said in a statement released Tuesday.

Leon County Circuit Court judge Judge George Reynolds rejected the center’s claim that the state payments were illegal. The state of Florida subsequently joined the Becket Fund to help fight the lawsuit, arguing that the programs were offered to ex-convicts irrespective of their faith or beliefs, and didn’t require participation in religious services.

The county court ruled against the Center’s claims, saying that similar arguments, if upheld, could be used to prevent state funds from going to religiously affiliated hospital systems.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a similar case from Missouri where a Lutheran preschool was blocked from a state program because it is run by a church. The high court will likely hear arguments on that case in upcoming months, with a ruling expected in June.

Watch the Becket Fund explain the Florida case in the video below:

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.