Monday, June 24, 2002

God Behind Bars-Chuck Colson's a hot topic in the Blogosphere today, warning about militant Islam getting a big toe-hold in prisons in a Wall Street Journal piece. Colson has been America's #1 prison minister since coming to Christ while serving a Watergate-related sentence in the mid-70s, and put in a plug for such prison ministries in his piece. Christianty Today's blog has a good overview of the issue, while Instapundit has his suspicions,
He's [Colson's] right that it's an issue, but his solution -- which seems basically that Christianity is better -- doesn't fly. First, it's got First Amendment problems. Under current Supreme Court law you could probably get rid of all prison ministries if you chose, but you can't favor one religion over another. Second, his view of Christianity in prison is a bit rosy-eyed: Christian Identity types have been recruiting there for years.
I'm not WSJ-registered, so I can't get to the article in question. I believe the answer is to keep tabs on groups with violent natures, whether they are of a religious or secular stripe. To try to indirectly tie Christian Identity (a white-power group with a "Christian" overlay) with Colson is a cheap shot. CI should be dealt with just as other gang-type groups that promote lawlessness, whether they are religious or not. Colson's Prison Fellowship and many others prison ministries have help turn plenty of inmates' lives around and thus should be encouraged on a public policy basis. There are also a number of decent Islamic ministries which have helped turn some guys' life around; the prayer and life-style disciplines of Islam will help re-socialize some guys, even if it is a warped version of God that is the focus of their energies. While I'm not going to endorse the Muslim groups spiritually, we need to do so from a public-policy standpoint; ministries that help inmates channel their frustrations into healthy outlets should be encouraged, regardless of their religious background. The first amendment doesn't create a religion-free zone behind bars, but any policies need to not play favorites. The unhealthy ones, such as your al Qaeda-friendly Muslim groups or CI should be barred on the grounds of being detrimental to the security of the prison, if they are avenues for prisoner revolts and lawlessness.

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