For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul Fidalgo
Phone: (207) 358-9785
January 25, 2016
Judge Rules Christian Substance Abuse Programs for Former Prisoners Is Not “Sectarian”
In a ruling that stands in stark contrast to any reasonable understanding of the Florida Constitution, a Florida circuit court rejected a suit by the Center for Inquiry (CFI) that challenged state funding of overtly sectarian Christian rehabilitation programs for former prisoners. CFI, an organization that promotes science, reason, and secular humanism, plans to appeal this decision, characterizing the ruling as legally flawed and, at its core, illogical.
In the case of Center for Inquiry v. Jones, Judge Reynolds of the Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit in Leon County, Florida, found against the Center for Inquiry and Richard and Elaine Hull, two individual taxpayers and supporters of secular government, ruling that state payments to two explicitly Christian organizations, Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God, were constitutional – despite the clear wording of the Florida Constitution which states that that “no revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”
Despite both organizations openly characterizing themselves as religious ministries, claiming tax exempt status as churches, and even declaring that they believed recovery from addiction was impossible without faith in Jesus, the court ruled that the government-funded substance abuse program did not promote Christianity, nor were the services performed by the biblically named organizations “significantly sectarian.”
The ruling was based largely on the voluntary nature of the program, but CFI believes that this is a fundamental misreading of Florida law.
“It’s obvious to everyone that the state of Florida cannot, for example, use taxpayer money to buy land, build a church, and hire a pastor, then simply claim that people aren’t compelled to attend the services,” said Nick Little, CFI General Counsel. “Florida’s constitution on its face prohibits state funds being funneled to sectarian organizations, and here we have Florida shelling out the people’s money to self-confessed churches to provide drug counseling when those very churches assert that the only path to addiction recovery is by giving one’s life to Jesus.”
“We are taken aback by this indefensible ruling. According to this trial judge, Floridians have no recourse if the government chooses to fund faith-based services provided by explicitly Christian ministries, provided no one is coerced into using these services,” said CFI’s President, Ronald A. Lindsay. “We hope and expect that the appeals court will recognize that the trial court has ignored the state’s constitution and will overturn this ruling.”
Nick Little added, “These are groups that are literally called ‘Prisoners of Christ’ and ‘Lamb of God,’ and they are run by ordained ministers, registered with the IRS as churches, and proudly announce that they rely on a Biblical path to addiction recovery. To claim that they are not ‘sectarian’ involves a redefinition of the English language that would make George Orwell blush. This ruling has no logical basis, and can’t stand up to the serious constitutional examination it will receive from the appeals court.”
CFI (under the name of its program the Council for Secular Humanism) launched this case in 2007. A decision by this same trial court dismissing the case was overturned in 2010 by Florida’s First District Court of Appeals. Defendants Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God have been supported by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a well-funded religious right group which uses its large resources to seek to promote state support of religious institutions across the United States.
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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at www.centerforinquiry.net.