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Pentecostal Prisoner's Religious Rights Restored in N.J.

Man with hands handcuffed behind his back
Man with hands handcuffed behind his back
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November 30, 2009

Today the ACLU announced a settlement with prison officials in New Jersey that will restore the right of an ordained Pentecostal minister to preach to his fellow prisoners.

Howard Thompson, Jr., incarcerated at the New Jersey State Prison (NJSP) since 1986, had preached at weekly worship services and taught bible study classes for more than a decade when, in 2007, without warning or justification, NJSP officials banned prisoners from preaching, even when done under the supervision of prison staff. The ban deprived Thompson's fellow prisoners of his religious instruction, which chaplain staff had previously encouraged and believed had a positive influence. Thompson was ordained as a minister in 2000 by the prison's Protestant chaplain.

In response to the ban, the ACLU and ACLU of New Jersey filed a lawsuit on Thompson's behalf last November, asserting that NJSP officials had unconstitutionally infringed upon Thompson's right to freely practice his religion. Today's settlement will allow Thompson to resume preaching at Christian worship services and teaching bible study classes.

This case is just one of the ACLU's many cases defending the right to religious exercise and expression. You can read about the many, many more cases on our defending religion page.

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