UNION OF ORTHODOX JEWISH CONGREGATIONS OF AMERICA WELCOMES FEDERAL APPEALS COURT RULING IN PRISON FELLOWSHIP/ FAITH-BASED INITIATIVE PROGRAM;
“GOVERNMENT’S ABILITY TO FUND FAITH-BASED PROGRAMS WHEN THERE IS GENUINE…CHOICE REAFFIRMED”
Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, welcomed the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in a case reviewing the operations of Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange program in Iowa prisons.
InnerChange provides a faith-based criminal rehabilitation program within the Iowa prison system and its receipt of government funds was challenged in the litigation. A lower court previously ruled that the government funding violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. The Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling yesterday (albeit while reversing the lower court’s ruling that Prison Fellowship had to reimburse the government $1.5 million it had received.)
Nathan Diament, the Union’s director of public policy issued the following statement commenting on the appeals court ruling:
The Orthodox Union has long been a champion of sensibly structured government support for faith-based social welfare and educational programs. From our perspective, a necessary constitutional element to structure such support is for beneficiaries/participants in such programs to have their religious liberty protected by having genuine independent choice among programs providing the particular service.
The Orthodox Union has long advocated for the “genuine and independent choice” principle in the courts and in legislation. It was adopted by a series of Supreme Court decisions (mainly in the context of government aid to parochial schools), and it is what the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals relied upon in its ruling in the Prison Fellowship case. Thus, this ruling does not put an end to faith-based programs, but insists upon and clarifies again how they must be structured.