Soul winners who work in prisons should be aware of a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling that will allow inmates more gospel literature. Some prisons have placed unnecessary restrictions on prisoner's religious rights.
Oddly, the case, called Cutter V. Wilkinson involved two inmates in Ohio, a witch and a Satanist, who complained to the court that they were deprived of literature and other religious items. The ruling applies to all inmates, regardless of their religion.
"The decision will obviously benefit Christians as well," said Brian Fahling of the American Family Association's Center for Law and Policy. The ruling is a clarification of a federal law passed in 2000 called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). This law came down firmly on the side of prisoner's rights to worship and exercise their faith.
Over zealous or biased prison officials and chaplains have denied literature to prisoners claiming that it posed a security concern. When an inmate is denied a religious item, Fahling explained that "the inmates will have an opportunity to challenge it, and the prison will have the opportunity to defend and demonstrate to the court why it imperils the security of the prison."
In the past, prison workers and chaplains have complained to Chick Publications that head chaplains and wardens have forbidden inmates to have Chick tracts stating that they posed a security threat. In reality, they objected to the no compromise biblical message of the tracts. With the new ruling, "What they can't do is use that [security threat] as a pretext to deny prisoners the right to worship," said Fahling.
Brad Dacus of the Pacific Justice Institute called the decision, "an outstanding victory for prison ministries and people of faith." PJI recently filed a case defending inmates' rights to receive free Bible correspondence courses. They expected that the ruling would "greatly enhance our work."
For prison workers who feel inmates have been unjustly denied access to Bible literature, they can seek advice from the AFA Law Center at www.afa.net or PJI at www.pacificjustice.org.