`GOD POD' DISBANDED: Fundamentalist Christian Jail Unit Struck Down In Texas.Ronald B. Flowers isn't the type of guy likely to end up behind bars. A longtime professor of religion at Texas Christian University Texas Christian University, at Fort Worth; Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); coeducational; opened 1873 at Thorp Spring, chartered 1874 as Add Ran Male and Female College. It assumed its present name in 1902 and moved to Fort Worth in 1910. in Fort Worth, he has never had a brush with the law more serious than a parking ticket.
Yet when Flowers learned that corrections officials in his home of Tarrant County, Texas Tarrant County is a county located in the U.S. state of Texas. As of 2000, the population was 1,446,219. Its county seat is Fort Worth6. Tarrant County is the second most populous county in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex and contains its second largest principal city. , had established a special fundamentalist Christian jail unit for inmates, he jumped at the chance to join a lawsuit to put a stop to it.
"I thought an important principle was involved," said Flowers, who serves on the Americans United Board of Trustees board of trustees Politics The posse of thugs who oversee an institution's administration. See Board of directors. . "It seemed to me, as we understood the situation in the jail, that the separation of church and state
Two lower courts upheld the special unit, but on July 28 the Texas Supreme Court unanimously reversed and declared the so-called "God pod" -- formally known as the "Chaplain's Education Unit" -- a violation of church-state separation.
The court noted in its Williams v. Lara decision that the unit was saturated with a version of Christianity espoused by Sheriff David Williams David Williams is the name of: Musicians
"[T]he fact that inmates were willing to submit to the instruction offered does not mean that Williams and Atwell did not promote their own personal religious beliefs over other religious teachings, and their official endorsement of the substance of the religious instruction offered in the CEU CEU Continuing Education Unit
CEU Central European University
CEU College of Eastern Utah (Price, UT)
CEU Centro Escolar University (Manila, Philippines)
CEU Centro Escolar University goes beyond what the [First Amendment] can tolerate," wrote Justice Deborah G. Hankinson for the court.
While Flowers had the right as a taxpayer to challenge the pod, two ex-inmates -- one a Jehovah's Witness Jehovah's Witness
Member of an international religious movement founded in Pittsburgh, Pa., by Charles T. Russell in 1872. The movement was originally known as the International Bible Students Association, but its name was changed by Russell's successor, Joseph Franklin and the other Jewish -- who had spent time in other parts of the jail also served as plaintiffs. Backed by the American Civil Liberties Union American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), nonpartisan organization devoted to the preservation and extension of the basic rights set forth in the U.S. Constitution. and the American Jewish Congress
The American Jewish Congress describes itself as an association of Jewish Americans organized to defend Jewish interests at home and abroad through public policy advocacy, using diplomacy, , they filed suit in state court to block the program.
"The sheriff had imposed theological standards for the `God pod' himself," observed Flowers. "The people who were religious but did not qualify for the `God pod' were not getting the same access to religion. They were simply not getting the same kind of access to their ministries as the others."
The ruling was especially significant since it came from the home state of President George W. Bush, who is ardently pushing "faith-based" social services. Observers noted that the Texas Supreme Court, an elected body, is all Republican and conservative and that Bush appointed several of its members.
The Texas justices did not say that religious programs may not be offered at the jail. Such programs are common in correctional facilities nationwide, and the court recognized their role in aiding in the rehabilitation of some inmates. But, the court noted, Williams and Atwell went too far in using the Tarrant County program to further a specific religious view at taxpayer expense.
County corrections officials launched the CEU in 1992. Inmates taking part had to sign an agreement acknowledging that the pod is "based on orthodox Christian biblical principles." At trial, Williams and Atwell testified that they did not allow program instructors to discuss other religious beliefs, and Williams conceded that the unit was based on his personal definition of orthodox Christianity.
Material distributed by Williams and Atwell at the jail openly criticized other faiths. Plaintiff Michael Huff, a Jehovah's Witness who first complained about the pod in a letter to the ACLU ACLU: see American Civil Liberties Union. in 1993, noted that some of the "educational" material listed his denomination as a "cult," along with Mormons and Unitarian Universalists. The material also blasted the Roman Catholic practice of a celibate clergy as a "doctrine of the Devil."
Shortly after the court issued its ruling, the county's new sheriff, Dee Anderson, ordered the "God pod" dismantled. Its 63 inmates were assigned to the jail's general population. Even before the court ruling, Tarrant corrections officials had been taking steps to modify the program to include other religions. (Williams lost a reelection re·e·lect also re-e·lect
tr.v. re·e·lect·ed, re·e·lect·ing, re·e·lects
To elect again.
re bid to Anderson in 2000.)
"We will not be the ones organizing religious activities for the inmates," Chief Deputy Jim Willet told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram The Fort Worth Star-Telegram is a major U.S. daily newspaper serving Fort Worth and the western half of the North Texas area known as the Metroplex. Its area of domination is checked by its main rival, The Dallas Morning News . "And we won't be denying [religion] to those who ask for it and can abide by the rules that are needed to run a jail."