Challenging Angola Prison's Religion Policies

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

Warden Cain, the head of Louisiana State Penitentiary, more commonly known as Angola, is famous for promoting what he calls "moral rehabilitation."

Although the ACLU strongly supports anyone's efforts to encourage prisoners to look forward toward changing their lives for the better, we also expect those efforts to be done in a way that will not endorse one religion over another, or religion over non-religion.

Unfortunately, that is not happening at Angola.

Just under two years ago we had to file a lawsuit on behalf of a Norman Sanders, a Mormon prisoner who simply wanted access to publications from sellers of Mormon materials, including the bookstore at Brigham Young University. Unfortunately Warden Cain repeatedly denied Norman's requests, so we had to file a lawsuit. We eventually settled, allowing Norman access to simple religious materials.

Today we filed lawsuits on behalf of a Catholic and a Muslim prisoner, each being denied the right to practice his religion freely. As Yogi Berra would say, it's déjà vu all over again.

Donald Leger is a practicing Catholic on Louisiana's death row. He's devout, often praying the novenas. Starting in April 2007, the prison began locking the televisions on death row to a particular station on Sunday mornings. The televisions, located directly outside death row prisoners' cells, are locked to predominately Baptist programming on Sunday mornings. The images of the religious programming pour into the prisoners' cells and can't be escaped. In some tiers, the televisions blare.

From April 2007 until December 31, 2007 and from mid-2008 until December 31, 2008, Donald didn't have the opportunity to watch a single Catholic Mass, although scores of Baptist services were shown. Donald and the other death row prisoners are told that they will be written up and tossed in lockdown if they try to have anyone change the television station.

Donald has no problem with religion, it's just that he is a Catholic, and he simply wants the ability to turn from the mandated Baptist programming to a Catholic Mass that also airs on Sunday morning. Donald's written the Warden for almost two years now, and has filed complaint forms with the prison. His requests have gone unanswered. Worse yet, he's suffered retaliation because he's complained, and he fears for his safety.

The other suit we filed yesterday also involves a man who just wants to worship his God as he sees fit. Shawn Anderson is a Muslim prisoner who, much like Mormon prisoner Norman Sanders, is being denied access to religious literature and publications. Anderson, a member of the Nation of Islam, also wants to gather with fellow believers to worship. It's not a novel request: In prisons and jails across the country, members of the Nation of Islam are able to get publications and gather to worship.

Religion is a matter that should lie solely in the hands of individuals and their chosen faith. Prisons may not control the private practice of religion unless it clearly poses a safety or security risk, which is not an issue in these cases. Unfortunately, the prison is rearing its head into these men's relationships with their God.

In Baptist Press, Warden Cain recently was quoted as saying that he "would never again put someone to death without telling him about his soul and about Jesus." Although it's a kind sentiment, Cain's job is to be Warden of Angola, not the Chaplain of Angola. He shouldn't impose his religious views on those who do not share them. Catholics and Muslims prisoners just want the same opportunities to worship freely that Baptist prisoners are given.

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US Citizen

The ACLU is against religion in schools and public buildings, but promotes religion for prisoners. The ACLU needs to rethink it's logic.

roald

US Citizen - The ACLU position is clear when you think about it. They want to prevent the government from denying people their rights under the Constitution. As an individual, you may choose to follow any or no religion. It is not up to the state, be it a school or a prison, to make that choice for them.

I would like to read your thoughts on this.

The Majority

Roald;
The ACLU has a deeper found agenda when it comes to religion. In the past decade alone, using thier gestapo-like pressure, the ACLU has managed to nearly wipe out any visage of Christianity in the logos, flags, and symbols of local governments; they've eliminated any reference to GOD in public schools; and, like good Marxists, they've attacked the Ten Commandments where ever they are posted, even when they are a part of a historical display in a public building.
These are "civil Libertarians"? Libertarian, for the slow of mind, refers to freedom, not depotism and cultural destruction.

roald

The Majority - absent the questionable use of adjectives, I see what the ACLU has done as admirable. My test for moral outrage is to repeat the statement with substitutions. For example, how would I react to hearing that the SACLU (Saudi Arabian Civil Liberties Association) was successful in removing all traces of Islam in their government's treatment of its citizens. No outrage, so no outrage over what the ACLU is doing.

I am willing to bet real cash that the historical display to which you refer is not a museum-grade (read as historically-neutral) exhibit.

evelynsalone@ya...

i am the victim of donald leger. tell you what, just turn the t.v. off. sounds like that golves all the proble. or is that inhuman and againest all prissoners rights tooo ??? !!!!!!

evelynsalone@ya...

sorry... thats.... cover all the problems!!!!!

JULIE

AND I AM THE TWIN VICTIM OF NORMAN SANDERS, HE WASNT FOLLOWING HIS JESUS OR BUDDA OR WHATEVER WHEN HE DECIDED TO MURDER A CHILD AND HIS EX WIFE , NOW WAS HE? BURL CAIN SHOULD OF THREW HIS AZZ IN DETAINMENT AND FORGOT ABOUT HIM. HIS RIGHTS/ WHAT ABOUT MY BROTHERS .OHH THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN AND THE SYSTEM INWHICH THESE DEFENDERS WORK FOR.
HIS LAWSUIT...AWARDED 10K,NOW YOU TELL ME, IS THIS JUSTICE FOR ALL,NAAAH I DONT THINK SO!

Faithful

The rights of Christian is what ACLU is trying to remove. You say Freedom but not if your Christian, your agenda is a front for removing our rights. Two men bless a meal and you go after them with crimanal charges. As a christian I would not be upset if another faith blessed the meal. The 1st Amendment is for Christians also. We have a right to pray just as someone else can choose not to. It's time our voices are heard

Anonymous

Isn't it true that prisoners at Angola are allowed to take college level courses from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - and NO other college or university? Now that's discriminatory and plain cruel.

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