Barring Faith

The Weekly Standard, July 17, 2006, with Gerald V. Bradley

TO FULLY APPRECIATE the wrong headedness of a federal district court’s recent decision expelling a faith-based program from an Iowa prison, it is necessary first to take a backward glance at the history of religious involvement in corrections in the United States.

As long ago as 1790, some Philadelphia notables sought an alternative to capital punishment, then the statu tory penalty for many felonies. Most of these reformers were Quakers, and they found their alternative in long-term imprisonment. The Quakers built the country’s first prison–right behind Independence Hall. Then they faced another challenge: How would the prisoners spend their years of confinement? Most important, what would be the overriding aim of “doing time”?

The Philadelphians decided they would try to transform the criminal’s character. To do so, they imposed a regimen of solitude, hard work, and religious renewal. They sought to convert the offender–not to a particular church, but to a God-fearing life of decent behavior. While it was easy to see that society would gain, the Quakers were motivated by what they considered their Christian duty to attend to their erring brothers….

The Weekly Standard