Not Intimidated

If I were to tell you that an innovative in-prison program teaches prisoners moral values, you’d probably say, “Great!” If I told you that this program is rigorous, requiring prisoners to rise at dawn for a long day of hard work, classes, and interaction with volunteers from the surrounding community, you’d think it was a good thing. And then, if I showed you that this program gets results, you would agree that it ought to be in every prison in the country. Well, the good news is that’s exactly what’s happening with the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (or IFI), a faith-based program for prisoners. Started by Prison Fellowship back in 1997, the program operates in prisons in Texas, Minnesota, Kansas, Arkansas, and Iowa. According to a University of Pennsylvania study, those who graduate from the program in Texas have drastically reduced recidivism rates. The bad news is that Barry Lynn and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have sued Prison Fellowship, IFI, and the state of Iowa, claiming that the program is unconstitutional. As I speak, we are awaiting the federal judge’s decision any day. I believe that IFI meets every constitutional requirement. It is open to prisoners of all faiths—or no faith at all. It is entirely voluntary. And prisoners know from the start that the program is taught from a Christ-centered, biblical perspective. Described by a Texas warden as one of the toughest ways to do time, this program works. The small amount of state correctional money spent in relationship to IFI is for non-religious purposes—such as computer training. And, most importantly, the program is helping the state accomplish its goal of keeping prisoners from coming back to prison. Now that it’s proving to be a success, it is just too much for Barry Lynn and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State—not because it’s a violation of church and state, but because it works. Americans United is up to something else as well: intimidation—old-fashioned bullying. It knows that many Christian organizations such as Baptist Youth Homes can ill afford to defend themselves in court. Just threatening a lawsuit can be enough for Americans United often to achieve its ends. Well, to tell you the truth, IFI can ill afford this lawsuit as well. It has cost a million dollars so far, and there are more legal bills ahead, even beyond the verdict. But I’m here to tell you that Prison Fellowship and IFI will not be intimidated. Transformed lives and public safety are at stake. Transforming prisoners into law-abiding citizens is a legitimate goal for states and the public to pursue. And inmates have every constitutional right to choose a Christ-centered program to change their lives. Religious liberty is worth fighting for, and we will fight for it. Will you stand with us?


Chuck Colson


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