ACLU of NJ Fights For Christian Inmate's Right to Preach
AAsch at aol.com
AAsch at aol.com
Fri Dec 12 15:48:19 PST 2008
FYI, the latest addition to my website: _ACLU Fights for Christians_
Release taken from
ACLU Protects Prisoner's Religious Liberty
For Immediate Release
December 3, 2008
State Prison Officials Prevent Ordained Pentecostal Minister from Preaching
TRENTON, NJ - The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of New Jersey
today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a New Jersey prisoner, an ordained
Pentecostal minister, who is asking the state to respect his religious
freedom by restoring his right to preach.
Howard Thompson Jr. had preached at weekly worship services at the New
Jersey State Prison (NJSP) for more than a decade when prison officials last year
issued, without any reason, a blanket ban on all preaching by inmates, even
when done under the direct supervision of prison staff.
"Ours is a country where people are free to express their religious
viewpoints without having to fear repercussions," said Edward Barocas, Legal Director
of the ACLU of New Jersey. "The New Jersey State Prison may not deny its
prisoners their most basic constitutional rights."
Since he entered NJSP in 1986, Thompson has been an active member of the
prison's Christian community, participating in and preaching at Sunday services
and other religious events, teaching Bible study classes and founding the
choir. His preaching has never caused any security incidents, and the prison's
chaplaincy staff has actively supported Thompson and encouraged him to spread
his deeply held message of faith.
But in June 2007, prison officials banned all prisoners from engaging in
preaching of any kind, without any warning or justification -- which they still
have not given.
"I have a religious calling to minister to my fellow inmates, and I've done
so honestly, effectively and without incident for years," Thompson said. "All
I want is to have my religious liberty restored and to be able to continue
working with men who want to renew their lives through the study and practice
of their faith."
According to the lawsuit, which names NJSP Administrator Michelle R. Ricci
and New Jersey Department of Corrections Commissioner George W. Hayman as
defendants, Thompson first preached a service at NJSP over a decade ago, when he
relieved the former Protestant chaplain, who had been unable to lead a
scheduled service due to illness.
During the next decade, before he was ordained as a Pentecostal minister,
Thompson periodically preached at Sunday services, taught Bible study classes
and participated in and led the prison choir he founded. During these years,
Thompson received his call to ordained ministry and to preaching and leading
others in worship, study, and prayer.
"Prisoners do not forfeit their fundamental right to religious liberty at
the prison gate," said Daniel Mach, Director of Litigation for the ACLU Program
on Freedom of Religion and Belief. "The prison's absolute ban on inmate
preaching clearly violates the law and Mr. Thompson's right to practice his
Thompson, ordained in October 2000 during a service at NJSP overseen by the
prison's chaplain, sincerely believes it is his religious calling and
obligation to preach his Pentecostal faith and is willing to do so under the full
supervision of NJSP staff.
This lawsuit is the latest in a long line of ACLU cases defending the
fundamental right to religious exercise, a complete _list of which is available
online_ (http://www.aclu-nj.org/news/www.aclu.org/defendingreligion.htm) .
In 2007, the ACLU of Rhode Island prevailed in a lawsuit challenging a
similar restriction on prisoner preaching, successfully overturning a statewide
ban and restoring the plaintiff prisoner's right to preach during weekly
Read Howard Thompson's _complaint_
(http://www.aclu-nj.org/news/www.aclu.org/prison/restrict/37953lgl20081120.html.htm) and _preliminary injunction
Learn about the _ACLU Program on the Freedom of Religion and Belief_
(http://www.aclu-nj.org/news/www.aclu.org/religion.htm) and the _ACLU-NJ_
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