Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Religious Programs and the Law Mini-Rant

I have several conservative relatives and acquaintances who are outraged at the idea that religious programs are not more supported by the government and court system. They point to all the good such programs can do with people who are troubled, and ask whether the lack of funding/approval is a conspiracy on the part of the government to remove religion from society. They wonder why I am hesitant to wholly endorse these programs, given the good they can do. What's my problem, anyway?

Well, this is my problem:
Twenty-three-year-old Joseph Hanas of Genesee County pled guilty in the Genesee Circuit Court to a charge of marijuana possession in February 2001. He was placed in a “drug court” for non-violent offenders, allowing for a deferred sentence and dismissal of the charges if he successfully completed the Inner City Christian Outreach Residential Program.

Unbeknownst to Hanas when he entered the program, one of the goals of Christian Outreach was to convert him from Catholicism to the Pentecostal faith. He was forced to read the bible for seven hours a day and was tested on Pentecostal principles. The staff also told him that Catholicism was a form of witchcraft and they confiscated both his rosary and Holy Communion prayer book. At one point, the program director told his aunt that he “gave up his right of freedom of religion when he was placed into this program.” Hanas was told that in order to complete the program successfully he would have to proclaim his salvation at the altar and was threatened that if he did not do what the pastor told him to do, he would be “washed of the program and go to prison.”

For every good religious person out there who wants to help others because of his or her faith, who may hope to change someone's heart by example, and wouldn't dream of coercing anyone to convert, there's another who takes the opportunity to re-enact the inquisition. The only way religious-based programs should be allowed is as an alternative for people who want to be in them rather than a secular program. Kind of like a voucher system, let people have their choice. Even then any federal funding is a bit dicey, but I think it can be argued.

It boggles my mind that anyone could think freedom of religion equates to freedom of my religion, not yours. And for those who think otherwise, could you provide the biblical support for enforced conformity rather than teaching by a loving example? I believe the tenets of just about every major religion dictate against this kind of religious blackmail.

(I'm trying very hard not to pick on any one sect, because it seems historically the major religion of a nation always tries to pull this, no matter what religion it is. Our country merely happens to be majority Christian.)

Oh, and one more thing: the ACLU is fighting to preserve this man's right to practice his Catholicism. Just thought you might like to know.

via Dappled Things.

Rant over.

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