The Decatur County Sheriff’s Department in Greensburg, Indiana has been pushing Christianity on inmates in the county jail. We know this because… they openly brag about it on Facebook. In a series of posts, the sheriff celebrated baptizing “nearly 40 men and women” during a December event while noting that they’ve converted “nearly 300” people over the past four years.
The problem here isn’t that the prisoners are making a public proclamation about their faith, which is obviously their right. The problem is the Sheriff’s Department promoting these religious events as if they’re inherently positive and treating Christianity as the office’s default faith. (“God Bless Decatur County!”)
It also raises questions about just how “voluntary” these events are. When the people who control your freedom and privileges make clear that they applaud anyone who professes Christianity, there’s pressure on inmates to say they accept the divinity of Jesus regardless of their actual beliefs.
We write to ensure that the Decatur County Sheriff’s Department ceases its promotion of, and official affiliation with, Christianity on its official social media pages and through its religious events, programs, and activities in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. While the DCDC may permissibly accommodate the free exercise rights of its inmates by providing opportunities for religious worship, Decatur County and its employees may not organize, promote, participate in, or coerce inmates into participating in these religious events and programs.
FFRF also points out that when a sheriff in Tennessee used Facebook to promote Christianity, it eventually cost his department $41,000 in legal fees.
What makes the case in Decatur especially egregious is that it’s not even the first time FFRF has sent them this kind of letter for the exact same thing. In July of 2022, they wrote to Sheriff Dave Durant about a “Residents Encounter Christ” event that he arranged. Durant has been doing this sort of thing for years.
Taken as a whole, it is obvious that the Department’s motive in planning and promoting inmate baptisms, the REC program, and the MRT program is not simply to accommodate inmates, but to advance Christianity and coerce inmates and the broader Decatur County community to adhere to the tenets of Christianity. The DCDC is actively coercing inmates to participate in its religious programming, which is rampant throughout the Department. Any inmate aware of the DCDC’s official support for, and celebration of inmates participating in, religious programs will not feel free to decline to participate. This is constitutionally impermissible. The government cannot legally itself host sectarian religious events in its facility, or promote them in its official capacity. Nor can it use a County corrections center, with a literal captive audience, to proselytize and convert inmates to Christianity.
At this point, the groundwork has been laid for a possible lawsuit. FFRF has asked the department politely to stop their illegal actions. They’ve continued anyway. This would never be acceptable if a sheriff was promoting any other religion to inmates in jail and it shouldn’t be okay with Christianity either.
The irony is that the guy overseeing the prison is the one breaking the law. But because of the privilege Christianity has in our society, it’ll take a hell of a lot before he ever faces any consequences because of what he’s doing.