Why Are State Prisoners Building a Chair for the Pope? September 5, 2015

Why Are State Prisoners Building a Chair for the Pope?

For some reason, inmates at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center have been hard at work creating a chair for Pope Francis to sit on when he visits them later this month.

I assume this is what the chair looks like

Rameen Perrin, who said he’s spent 13 months behind bars on drug charges, said it meant a lot to be chosen for the papal project. Prisoners were picked based on work ethic, skill and reliability.

“It made me honored because I’m one of the ones that work hard, and they noticed,” said Perrin, 21.

The chair was made and refinished at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center, one of six jails in the municipal system.

Next, it will be upholstered at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, where Francis plans to meet Sept. 27 with about 100 prisoners and their relatives during a two-day trip to the city.

I don’t mind if the Pope wants to visit the prisons, but why are inmates at a public institution tasked with creating a gift for a religious leader?

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Annie Laurie Gaylor says this crosses the line:

“This is literally a captive audience, being asked to labor to produce something for a sectarian purpose, a purely devotional event, and that is totally inappropriate,” she added. It doesn’t matter whether the prisons asked for volunteers — prison officials shouldn’t have been involved at all, she added.

“We write to point out that PPS appears to be showing impermissible favoritism to one religion over all others, and religion over nonreligion, by inviting Catholic religious leaders to its facilities and then bestowing gifts on them,” Gaylor said.

It’s not like prisoners would ever be given the “honor” of doing menial labor for any other religious leader. But I wonder if they can use the excuse the government is offering: The Pope isn’t just a Catholic leader; he’s also a head of state (of the Vatican). So there’s no promotion of religion taking place.

I’m not saying it’s a convincing argument. I just don’t think FFRF has any way of enforcing this particular complaint.

(Image via ThinkGeek)

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