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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

FFRF: Ind. sheriff must halt inmate baptisms

Prison baptisms

FFRF has insisted that an Indiana sheriff’s department immediately cease its unabashed Christian proselytizing,

On Dec. 29, the Decatur County Sheriff’s Facebook page posted a series of photographs displaying Decatur County Detention Center inmates being baptized. The post shows a clear association with Christianity, reading, “Over the past four years, nearly 300 men and women have given their life to Jesus Christ while incarcerated at the Decatur County Detention Center. All glory to GOD!” The demeaning religious ceremonies take place in an unhygienic shared tub and are led by a Christian evangelizing group.

This egregiously violates the First Amendment, FFRF points out.

“It is a basic tenet of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that the government is prohibited from taking action that advances, shows preference for, or coerces individuals to participate in religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Sheriff Dave Durant. 

By holding sectarian religious events in the detention center, the sheriff’s department shows a clear allegiance to the Christian religion, putting the department in direct violation of the Establishment Clause. Prisoners will feel pressured to participate in these events when the sheriff himself is organizing them, creating a literal captive audience for Durant.

Residents of Decatur County depend on the sheriff’s department during potentially life-threatening situations, FFRF emphasizes, and rely upon the department to act impartially. By repeated promotion of his own personal religion on official social media pages, the sheriff sends the message that he and the entire sheriff’s department have a preference for Christian community members, expect inmates to kowtow to his religion to the point of undergoing baptisms and would prefer to exclude the approximately 30 percent of Americans who identify as nonreligious.

FFRF warns that if the sheriff insists on continuing religious proselytization of inmates, he is inviting legal liability, as seen in American Atheists v. Watson, in which the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office in Tennessee agreed to pay over $40,000 in damages and attorney’s fees for promoting religion on social media despite objections.