The Waupun Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in Wisconsin, recently began giving inmates the chance to earn a bachelors degree. The administrators are working with a non-profit group called the Wisconsin Inmate Education Association (WIEA) to make it a reality.
That sounds absolutely wonderful on the surface — it’s the sort of program that could really help inmates who may eventually be released — until you realize the catch.
There only one subject you can “major” in: Biblical Studies.
What’s even stranger is that the degree would be offered by Trinity International University, which offers dozens of other degree programs on their campuses across the country, yet it’s only the biblical one that inmates at WCI have the option of taking.
The WIEA also says this whole program, called “Operation Transformation,” is aimed at helping prisoners “become ‘field mentors’ who are available to mentor other inmates” — which is another way of saying they want the inmates who earn a degree to proselytize to their fellow prisoners. It doesn’t help that of their seven-member WIEA board of directors, four have religious degrees, three graduated from Trinity, two have experience proselytizing to prisoners, and one literally saying his goal is to “positively reach the prison population with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Freedom From Religion Foundation legal fellow Colin E. McNamara says all of this is a violation of church/state separation, and he just sent a letter to Wisconsin Department of Corrections Secretary Jon Litscher urging him to put an end to this program.
If WIDOC is serious about positively impacting inmates’ lives through learning, there is a glut of secular degree programs that would accomplish that venerable goal far better than a course in Biblical Studies, and no shortage of secular universities and non-profit organizations to administer them. But by all outward appearances, “Operation Transformation” has never been about transforming inmates’ lives through education — it is about transforming prisoners into preachers. The Constitution simply does not allow this. Whatever the metes and bounds of the Establishment Clause may be, it is beyond reasonable dispute that a state cannot turn a cellblock into a seminary.
Who the hell would green-light a degree program that preaches one religion under the guise of education and not even be aware of the potential legal problems with it? FFRF has filed multiple open records request to find out.
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