Center for Inquiry v. Jones

Thanks to the Becket Fund and a favorable court ruling in January 2016, Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God ministries are free to continue to partner with the state of Florida to serve recently released prisoners.

Former prisoner Jeff Green outside of Prisoners of Christ Ministry’s Faith House

Meet Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God Ministries

Addiction is a major problem and cause of criminal recidivism in the United States. To help break this vicious cycle, the state of Florida works with private organizations like Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God Ministries to help those recently released from prison assimilate back into society.

For as little as $14 a day from the state, the groups help men find transportation, medical services, job training and whatever basic services they need to find work, stay sober, and make a successful transition back into society. The groups  also provide, at no cost to the state, substance abuse treatment modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous. The entire program is voluntary—individuals can choose to participate, choose which provider best fits their needs, and also choose to join in optional religious discussions if they find them helpful.

Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God Ministries’ success rate is nearly three times the national average, and Prisoners of Christ alone has helped over 2,300 people get back on their feet. Although the state only covers a fraction of their costs, they serve at a financial loss because their faith leads them to do so.

The atheists who wanted them gone

The Center for Inquiry—an atheist group affiliated with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science—sued the state of Florida, Prisoners of Christ, and Lamb of God Ministries in an attempt to shut down the partnerships.  The atheist group claimed that state funds should never go to “pervasively sectarian” groups—even when those groups provide valuable services like room, board, and job training assistance.  Even though the services are provided at a bargain price. Even though no state money goes to religious activities. Even though the program works.

Legal help arrives

The Becket Fund represented Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God Ministries together with prominent Florida firm Ausley McMullen. The state of Florida also defended the program.

At issue was part of the Florida constitution barring state aid to “sectarian” institutions. This law was enacted more than a century ago during a wave of anti-Catholic sentiment. Many states enacted laws during that time period that barred state funds for “sectarian,” or Catholic organizations. Today, these archaic laws, known as Blaine Amendments, are often dredged up and used against public-private partnerships with a wide variety of faith groups.

On January 20, 2016, a Tallahassee court ruled in favor of Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God ministries. The court rejected the atheist group’s argument, pointing out that its position was “discriminatory” and that its extreme construction of the law could stop the state from partnering with Florida’s large Baptist and Catholic hospital systems to serve the poor. The atheist group chose not to appeal the ruling, meaning the case is over and the ministries may continue their valuable service to society.

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