District court rightly barred funds

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The U.S. Constitution is pretty clear on this matter. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, it effectively builds “a wall of separation between church and state.”

That’s why the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals made the right call Monday regarding InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a religious criminal rehabilitation program that formerly received state funding.

The court’s decision stated that InnerChange, a program contracted by the state of Iowa to provide services to inmates, cannot receive state money but that the program should not be shut down or required to repay about $1.5 million it already received.

InnerChange is a program that seeks to rehabilitate criminals back into society using Christian principles. It received state funding from its contraction in 1999 until 2007, but now is entirely privately funded.

Participation in the program is completely voluntary and inmates can drop out at any time. They are also not required to be Christians.

We have no problem with InnerChange operating in prisons, despite the fact that it is a self-declared Christian organization that places a heavy emphasis on study of the Bible.

In fact, we think it’s great, because it appears to have had success in reducing recidivism rates and turning ex-criminals into contributing members of society.

But regardless of the services it might provide, under no circumstance should a group with any semblance of a religious agenda receive government money.

That does not mean, however, that InnerChange should repay the money it received from the state. It must repay only the money it received the last year, following the original district court ruling.

We’re not really sure who in the Iowa legislature decided that following the Constitution wasn’t really necessary, but the organization itself shouldn’t be punished for that oversight.

The Iowa Department of Corrections originally solicited bids to provide rehabilitation, and InnerChange was the only program to submit a proposal.

Even when a secular competitor offered to provide the same service later on, InnerChange still offered the best bargain.

And now that InnerChange has ceased to receive state funding, there’s no problem with its continued operation. In fact, for no charge, it’s really in the state’s best interest to keep it around.

Cost permitting, it might be wise for Iowa to seek alternative programs that either are not religion-based or draw on other faiths, just for the sake of offering choices to inmates.

But InnerChange should not be shut down or penalized just because it does its job well and Iowa’s legislators apparently flunked high school civics.

After all, doing good for society is the ultimate goal of this Christian group. Since the state’s not paying, we should let it do its job.

The Daily Tar Heel is the student newspaper at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.