ACLU and Americans United Tell Court Parolee Shouldn’t Have Been Jailed for Refusing to Attend Worship Services

The ACLU and Americans United Argue Colorado Officials Violated Their Client’s Religious Freedom by Revoking His Parole as Punishment for Not Attending Worship Services

June 8, 2020 12:30 pm

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NEW YORK — Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and DLA Piper LLP (U.S.) filed a brief on behalf of their client, Mark Janny, who was jailed after he refused to take part in worship services, Bible studies, and religious counseling mandated by his parole officer.

Although Janny represented himself at the district court level, the ACLU, Americans United, and DLA Piper stepped in to represent him on appeal. The appeal argues that a federal district court wrongly dismissed Janny’s case, which asserted violations of his First Amendment rights. The appellate brief was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

Throwing someone behind bars for refusing to attend church services is blatantly unconstitutional,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. Government officials can’t abuse their positions of power to convert parolees, or anyone else, to their preferred faith.”

When Janny was on parole in February 2015, Colorado Department of Corrections Parole Officer John Gamez required him to live at the Denver Rescue Mission, a Christian homeless shelter that offers religious programming for parolees and other residents. Gamez had an arrangement with the mission’s director to place parolees there with the understanding that they would take part in compulsory religious worship and practice. Janny, an atheist, objected to the mandatory worship services, Bible studies, and religious counseling, and he asked to be excused from religious programming or to be permitted to live elsewhere.

Gamez and the Mission’s staff refused Janny’s request, threatening him with a return to jail if he did not continue living at the mission and participating in the required religious activities. When Janny ultimately declined to attend worship services, Gamez revoked his parole, and Janny was jailed for another five months.

“Mark Janny’s parole officer teamed up with shelter administrators to coerce Mark into practicing a faith that is not his own,” said Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director at Americans United. “And when Mark refused to submit to this proselytization, his parole officer retaliated by throwing Mark back in jail. Not only did these actions violate Mark’s religious freedom, but they also represent an alarming example of authority figures taking advantage of a vulnerable man.”

The brief is available

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