Monday, April 23, 2007

County Detention Center Avoids Lawsuit By Allowing Inmate Baptisms

In Clovis, NM after a demand letter and threat of a federal lawsuit from Liberty Counsel, the Curry County Detention Center administration reversed its position and allowed a local prison ministry to baptize six inmates in a portable baptismal pool. The warden has also agreed to allow a portable baptismal pool to be used for monthly baptisms at the detention center.
The prison ministry of the Sixteenth & Pile Church of Christ contacted Liberty Counsel for assistance after Warden Leslie Johnson and county officials refused to permit baptism by immersion at the local detention center. The ministry offered to provide a mobile baptismal tank in a secure area of the facility and to pay any additional security costs. Ministry leaders also advised the warden that a prison ministry in neighboring Portales, New Mexico, had utilized a similar procedure without incident.
Liberty Counsel sent a demand letter to the warden and the county explaining that failure to allow the baptisms violated the inmates' constitutional right to free exercise of religion and also violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. The county continued to emphatically refuse to allow the baptisms, until the prison ministry warned the warden that it was serious about pursuing the matter further and advised the county that a federal lawsuit by Liberty Counsel was unavoidable.
With the high rate of recidivism, prisons are in desperate need of better ways to rehabilitate inmates and make them productive citizens. Christian conversion and faith play a key role in transforming broken lives into new beginnings. Rather than throwing up roadblocks to Christian faith and worship, prisons should welcome the positive changes that the Christian conversion brings and the role that baptism plays in the inmates making a public confession of burying the old life and being resurrected to a new life in Jesus Christ.