ACLU Defends Prison Pastor

Pentecostal minister Howard Thompson, Jr. used to preach during worship services at the New Jersey State Prison.

A couple years ago, prison officials put a stop to that.

The Christian Right is *furious* at the ACLU for infringing on Thompson’s right to practice his fai—oh wait…

The ACLU was on Thompson’s side.

In fact, it’s because of the ACLU that Thompson won his case and can now resume preaching.

“The decision by prison officials in New Jersey to allow Mr. Thompson to resume practicing his faith is a welcome acknowledgement that religious freedom in this country extends to all,” said Daniel Mach, Director of Litigation for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “The ban on prisoner preaching was clearly at odds with the law and the American value of religious liberty, and this decision was long overdue.”

Good for all of them. The ACLU was on the right side of this case.

So, I have to ask: Where is the American Center for Law & Justice and Liberty Counsel and other “Christian versions of the ACLU” who frequently go after the ACLU for attacking religion?

Shouldn’t they be thanking them in this case?

And when was the last time the ACLJ (or their ilk) won a case on behalf of an atheist?

(via Dispatches from the Culture Wars)

  • Staceyjw

    Was he just a pastor going into prisons, or did he work there? I wonder why they banned prison preaching, since it seems pretty popular with many administrators.

    Can someone explain to me why prisons have to allow free access to religious prostetlyzers that come from outside the walls (ie, not inmates)? Is it considered a public space or is it like a workplace? Just curious.

  • cathy

    Staceyjw, this case involved a prisoner, who was also a minister. He gave sermons only to prisoners who asked or who voluntarily came to his sermons, which were supervised by guards. This case was about the right of a prisoner to practice his religion within prison walls. The ACLU has also defended the rights of Muslim, Jewish, and practicioners of traditional Native American religions as well.

    The ACLU protects the civil rights of everybody, not just those they agree with. It’s one of the things I admire about them.

    Prisoners are people too. We need to focus on making sure that Christian prisoners are not priviledged over others and that prisoners are not forced to participate in religious activities against their will. Letting a Catholic prisoner see their priest is not a problem, the fact that religious conversion gives preference for appeals is a huge problem.

  • http://chaoskeptic.blogspot.com Iason Ouabache

    I’ll just leave this here: http://www.aclufightsforchristians.com/

  • Miko

    One shouldn’t fall into the trap of describing the ACLU as anti-Christian, or anti- any group, or to suggest that this action was in any way out of character for them. They are one of the few groups with the word “liberty” in its name that really lives up to it. Liberty means that people have a right to make the decisions that affect their lives for themselves; whether any other people agree or disagree with those decisions has nothing to do with it.

  • Staceyjw

    Makes sense now, knowing he was also a prisoner. Thanks!
    S

  • heironymous

    ACLU = Pro-freedom again. Check.

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    The ACLU also defended Rush Limbaugh, of all people, when local prosecutors went on a fishing expedition to try to find evidence he’d been “doctor shopping” for more prescriptions than he should have gotten. IIRC the ACLU and Limbaugh prevailed in that case.

    The mantra that the ACLU is “anti-religious” or “anti-conservative” is an old one, but it’s inaccurate. But that doesn’t mean the Right won’t continue to intone it ad nauseum.

  • muggle

    See comments above. This is why my ACLU membership is important to me.

  • http://www.youtube.com/aajoeyjo Joe Zamecki

    Religious preaching in prison? When the prisoners do it, it seems like a reward for something.

    Why would someone in prison get to have free speech rights? Why would they get to have a right to practice their religion?

    I fail to see why a government would lock someone up but still give them benefits like this.

    Some prisoners are having a ball. So when does THEIR punishment begin? The govt. just gave them an audience. That’s not helpful to our society.

  • Tom Coward

    @ Joe Z: Joe, you ever been in prison? Didn’t think so. I’ve never been inside either (as a prisoner) but I have visited the occaisional client. I have never yet seen or heard of a prisoner “having a ball”, at least not if you mean “having a good time.” I have known of prisoners (male and female) being raped or otherwise abused while inside, but hardly any who seemed to benefit from the ‘incarceration experience.’ Prisoners only lose some of their rights while inside, and it is generally felt to be important that they retain their fundamental constitutional rights to the extent that the exercise thereof does not jeapordize prison security.


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