'Faith-based' program wins court battle
August 2 2002 by Robert Marus , Associated Baptist Press

'Faith-based' program wins court battle | Friday, Aug. 2, 2002

Friday, Aug. 2, 2002

'Faith-based' program wins court battle

By Robert Marus Associated Baptist Press

MADISON, Wis. - A federal judge in Wisconsin has ruled that a faith-based drug-treatment program can continue to receive tax dollars in the form of "vouchers" to prisoners.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb had earlier ruled that direct funding by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections of a faith-based treatment program called Faith Works violated the First Amendment's ban on establishment of religion. Crabb left open in her January ruling, however, a second question of whether indirect funding - in the form of vouchers to inmates who in turn choose between religious and non-religious programs - also violates the Constitution.

Crabb's ruling relied on a recent landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. That decision upheld an Ohio program providing government-funded scholarships that parents may use to send their children to private - including parochial - schools.

The Supreme Court ruling said such voucher programs are allowed by the Constitution, as long as parents have a genuine choice between religious and secular schools in deciding where to cash in the scholarships.

In a second ruling on the Wisconsin case July 29, Crabb said state funding of the Faith Works program operates on a similar principle because it is tied to individual inmates who choose between the faith-based and secular programs.

In her opinion, Crabb said the Establishment Clause is designed in part to "prevent the government from placing its imprimatur on religion." Recent court rulings, however, have recognized that individuals can "nullify any appearance of government endorsement" in benefiting from programs that allow "genuine and independent choices."

Plaintiffs challenging the Wisconsin program had argued that the prisoners did not have a true private choice among programs. Lawyers said Faith Works operated the only long-term residential drug program available to prisoners, and that prisoners would feel compelled to choose a treatment program recommended by prison officials.

In her ruling, however, Crabb said the Department of Corrections issued regulations to prison staff requiring that they inform prisoners that they were not required to use the Faith Works program and that they could choose a secular alternative.

Crabb's ruling fulfills a prediction by many legal observers following the school-voucher ruling that federal courts would eventually apply the same legal reasoning to religious social-service programs.

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8/2/2002 12:00:00 AM by Robert Marus , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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