ACLU of NJ Fights For Christian Inmate's Right to Preach

AAsch at AAsch at
Fri Dec 12 15:48:19 PST 2008

FYI, the latest addition to my website: _ACLU Fights for Christians_ 
Allen Asch
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_ ( . 
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 
Christian services. 
Read Howard Thompson's _complaint_ 
(   and _preliminary  injunction 
(  online. 
Learn about the _ACLU Program  on the Freedom of Religion and Belief_ 
(  and the _ACLU-NJ_ 
(   online.
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