Tuesday, January 15, 2008

COMMENTARY: Commissioners Set to Approve Funding for Prison Ministry Program But...

County Commissioners Dennis Stuckey, Scott Martin, and Craig Lehman are expected to act Wednesday on a proposal from the Lancaster County Prison Board to extend a contract with Support For Prison Ministries of Lititz in the amount of $73,080 for chaplain services at the County Prison during the year 2008.

While prison chaplain programs are widespread and useful, they raise concerns about the interface of religion and government. The Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized that no governmental actor is to take any position endorsing or disapproving of either a particular religion or of theism generally.

While it is important to permit all inmates access to clergy and to the materials they need to exercise their own religious convictions, caution needs to be taken not to cross the fine line between facilitation and coercion - especially in such a captive environment.

NewsLanc suggests that the excellent people at Support For Prison Ministries re-think their "Mission and Purpose" statement posted at its web site in order to make it more ecumenical and to avoid offending Muslims, Jews, other religious groups as well as non-believers. The Mission and Purpose statement lists:

* Touch lives with Christian love
* Present the Gospel in clear and understandable terms.
* Nurture new believers in faith and discipleship.
* Facilitate contacts with churches and Christians on the outside.
* Help develop prison ministry teams in local congregations.
* Provide training to the local church, community and interested persons.