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.

1 comment:

Marc Manley said...

Thanks for posting this. I found your words informative and balanced. I will continue to follow this story. Thanks.