Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Blessed are you when you are given pizza and a nice toilet

Via the NY Times, some striking examples of church-state-conflating faith-based-nonsense, such as this one:
Life was different in Unit E at the state prison outside Newton, Iowa.

The toilets and sinks — white porcelain ones, like at home — were in a separate bathroom with partitions for privacy. In many Iowa prisons, metal toilet-and-sink combinations squat beside the bunks, to be used without privacy, a few feet from cellmates.

The cells in Unit E had real wooden doors and doorknobs, with locks. More books and computers were available, and inmates were kept busy with classes, chores, music practice and discussions. There were occasional movies and events with live bands and real-world food, like pizza or sandwiches from Subway. Best of all, there were opportunities to see loved ones in an environment quieter and more intimate than the typical visiting rooms.

But the only way an inmate could qualify for this kinder mutation of prison life was to enter an intensely religious rehabilitation program and satisfy the evangelical Christians running it that he was making acceptable spiritual progress.
I suppose the "E" in "Unit E" stood for "Evangelical".

"Unit E" was run on tax dollars, and was of course clearly unconstitutional. So much so that, when it was brought to court, the judge not only cut off its funding, but also ordered that the ministry repay the $1.5 million it had already received, on the grounds that "the constitutional violations were serious and clearly foreseeable".

Given that the program was so blatantly unconstitutional, why would anyone have tried it in the first place? I can't help wondering if it occurred to some clever soul that they should give this a shot, so that, in the likely event that it got shot down in the courts, then at least pastors of a certain politicized stripe would have something to get the flock riled up about. After all, it was helping inmates, and wasn't doing any harm.

Well, no harm apart from, say, this:
One Roman Catholic inmate, Michael A. Bauer, left the program after a year, mostly because he felt the program staff and volunteers were hostile toward his faith.

“My No. 1 reason for leaving the program was that I personally felt spiritually crushed,” he testified at a court hearing last year. “I just didn’t feel good about where I was and what was going on.”
This isn't too surprising, given the attitude that many evangelical Christians seem to have towards Catholics. (Are they even Christians? They seem to worship an awful lot of idols. Even so, they still might not deserve to be "spiritually crushed".) Presumably someone who didn't lay claim to any form of Christian faith at all wouldn't have made it into the program in the first place.

Setting aside the political point of view, I'm wondering what, from a religious point of view, could make anyone think this program was a good idea. Are the privileges of "Unit E" supposed to prod the inmates along a path of "spiritual progress" (as judged by the people who run the program, naturally)? Are these material comforts meant to help convince these inmates to love God? I'm not sure how that could work, but maybe they're operating on the logic of Pascal's Wager - except instead of the infinite reward of heaven, they dangle the carrot of private toilets, live music, and food from Subway.

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