Friday, April 20, 2007

Quote: Harper's Index

  • Percentage of American adults held in either prisons or mental institutions
    in 1953 and today, respectively: 0.67, 0.68
  • Percentage ofthese adults in 1953 who were in mental institutions: 75
  • Percentage today who are in prisons: 97
H/T to Grits for Breakfast

Friday, April 13, 2007

So it was Jack Chick

I thought I was kidding yesterday when I speculated that the anti-Islamic tracts handed out at the Rockland County Jail might be some of Jack Chick's minor masterpieces. Today it turns out that Teresa Darden Clapp was suspended from her long time job as jail chaplain for handing out Chick tracts. And just to make sure it was clear where they were coming from, they were stamped with the name and address of the church that she pastors.

It makes me want to slam my head into the wall a few times, just to deaden the pain.

Chick tracts have been notorious for decades as some of the most bigoted, extremely fundamentalist, anti-Catholic publications around, and they may well be available in packs of 25 at your local Bible bookshop. Maybe there is out there a competent jail or prison chaplain that would use them, but I don't know of any.

Just to restate the obvious, if you are a paid jail or prison chaplain, you are a government employee, which mandates certain limitations on your activities. The First Amendment of the US Constitution prohibits the federal government from establishing one religion over another (and the Fourteenth applies this to the states) which means you if you are taking a government paycheck. Under well established statute and case law free exercise of religion is the inmates right, allowing it the facility's duty, and supporting it your responsibility as a chaplain. You are being paid to protect their rights, not exercise your own.

There is a good example of that in the article cited above. Jail Chief William Clark was asked about Islamic religious activities at the jail:

"I didn't have the funds to hire a Muslim cleric," Clark said, noting that those inmates pray on their own. "It could be possible next year in the budget."

Kidd also said the Muslim inmates were not afforded halal, or religiously permissible, meals. Clark said the jail used to have halal meals, but the company that provided them went out of business. Any Muslim inmate who wants a special meal is given a kosher meal, which is an acceptable substitution according to the state's correctional authorities, Clark said.
If there wasn't a Muslim chaplain, it was Clapp's professional responsibility to help these men find an alternative, and to champion their rights within that facility. Clark seems to be trying to do the right thing, but it was Clapp's responsibility to see that something like this did not happen, not Clark's

I don't want to just beat up on Chaplain Clapp. There may be a misunderstanding here, and her boss says she has done a great job up to this point. She is a former corrections officer, so she knows the environment, and chaplains with that kind of a background often do very well. If this is a mistake, I hope it is cleared up soon.

But, understand that Clark is not acting entirely out of the goodness of his heart. The Federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA -- which has been upheld by the Supreme Court) prohibits "unduly burdening" exercise of religion by inmates, subject to reasonable institutional restrictions based on needs such as security. There is a division of the Department of Justice with the responsibility of enforcing RLUIPA, and the act gives third parties the standing to sue.

This is the hard reality of working inside, and if you want to do ministry there, get used to it. If you can't work well with members of other faiths, be they Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Evangelical, Wiccan, Latter Day Saints, Catholic, Native American, Buddhist or Frisbeeterian, go minister somewhere else.

Quote: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The line between good and evil is in the center of every human heart.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Don't tell me . . . Jack Chick, right?

This story just went up over on Detention Ministry News and I am still shaking my head over it. It seems that Teresa Darden-Clapp has been the chaplain to the Rockland County Jail in New York since 1994. It also seems like she might not hold that office much longer -- she has been suspended while the jail investigates whether she was distributing tracts offensive to Muslim prisoners. Oh dear, here we go again.

If you want, hit the link and see just what kind of drivel was being handed out -- these sound a bit more moderate than Jack Chick, but they may have left the worst out. (It would not be unusual.) I have basically two reactions to this, one general, and one specific.

In general, this only points out once more the colossal ignorance in America of Islam, and the many cultures that make up the Islamic world. We have had leaders making decisions about war and reconstruction in Iraq that apparently did not know the difference between Sunni and Shia -- and that is the simplest (well simple may not be the best word . . .) and basic distinction one could make. For example, some conflate Shia groups in Iraq with the government or other groups in Iran. The difference between the two is much greater than just a shift in the last letter of the name.

Specifically, it indicates the difficulties some people have in distinguishing the role of chaplain from that of minister or evangelist. In chaplaincy, especially in prisons, you are often a government employee, and if a volunteer, given institutional access, status, and resources. Your primary job is to see to the spiritual care of the members of your faith community in that facility, but you also have a responsiblility to all the inmates, and for that matter, all working in that detention facility. If the members of some other faith come to you for assistance, especially if there is no chaplain from that faith, you are expected to help not only that person, but that faith community to get what they need, within the limitations of that facility and its rules.

In the facility that I visit, I have often met in the Catholic chapel (one of my favorite places on Earth -- heaven with concrete block walls) with a group of Catholic inmates, only to discover that it was time for the Native American, or Latter Day Saints community to use that space for a meeting. We picked ourselves up with a smile, moved our stuff somewhere else, and willingly helped that other group set up. That's part of the deal -- we get to have a space designed and decorated for our needs (which is rather rare in prison) but in turn, we have to be cooperative and hospitable. After all, we don't own the space, the state does.

This kind of cooperation is not some kind of high minded, fluffy, ecumenical idealism. It is a hard ecumenical reality. The only religious groups that can persist inside a secure government owned environment like a prison are groups that can retain their own identity, while supporting the other groups. It's hard enough to be religious inside a prison or jail. You don't need to add sheep-stealing and junior-high school squabbling to the mix. Maybe this chaplain will learn that. I hope so, both for her, and for those inside Rockland County Jail.

(Spelling note: I have added the hyphen to her name, as the only other cite that I could find for her on Google is the agenda for a local government meeting where she supplied the invocation. Apparently either the newspaper or the jail left it off. O maybe the agenda has it wrong. Who knows . . .)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Yeah, I've been busy

You're right, I haven't been around here much lately, but I do have a good excuse. I haven't given up blogging, I'm expanding. A little over a week ago I started to implement an idea that has been batting around inside my head. I work in detention ministry, currently as a volunteer. However, I have not been able to find a lot online, at least in an easy to find place, on this kind of ministry, or what is happening with it. So, as the classic story goes, it did not exist so I am trying to build it myself.

Hence: Detention Ministry News

It is a Blogger 2.0 site, using a standard template that I am steadily making non-standard with various hacks. The basic idea is one site that tracks news about those who minister to everyone in the justice and detention systems, including prisoners, families, victims, corrections officers -- everyone. I am continually working on some queries into Google's News and Blog Search systems. The items that directly pertain to ministry in some way get briefly excerpted, other news of note about the jail and prison systems are posted in daily sets of headlines. I must say, in getting DMN started, I have managed to learn a great deal about what is going on (much of which worries me) but also notice the stuff that I am not finding. Lots of work yet to make this the kind of site that is needed.

One difference between the two sites is that over at DMN, I am "The Editor" -- the whole point is that the stories should speak for themselves. I am attempting to show what is going on across geography and faith community without favor. However, on this blog, I am, in a sense, myself, writing with my own personal, and rather Catholic, point of view. It will be interesting to see how things interact.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A hero

Some would call Mbaye Diagne a hero. I'm not sure if that is quite strong enough. Go read.