Towanda, PA - Officials in Bradford County, Pa., have agreed to bar any public funding of religious activities as part of a settlement of a lawsuit challenging a faith-based inmate rehabilitation program.
In 2005, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the national law firm of Arnold & Porter LLP brought a legal action on behalf of five Bradford County taxpayers against Bradford County and other governmental agencies for funding The Firm Foundation, a religiously based rehabilitation program at the Bradford County jail.
The Moeller v. Bradford County lawsuit charged that federal, state, and Bradford County violated the Constitution by using tax payers' money to fund The Firm Foundation because its program proselytized to inmates, pressured them to take part in prayer, and hired only Christians as employees. The situation in Bradford County was brought to public attention by the Bradford County Alliance for Democracy, a local citizens' group.
In a settlement agreement filed with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania today, Bradford County agreed that all of its future contracts will bar an array of unconstitutional activities involving government support of religion.
"This settlement will ensure that all Bradford County residents can take advantage of government programs that are supposed to be for their benefit without being subjected to unwelcome religious proselytizing," said Mary Catherine Roper, an attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "And Bradford County taxpayers will get what they are supposed to be paying for - government service programs - instead of seeing their taxpayer dollars used to convert a captive audience."
Under terms of the agreement, Bradford County will:
- Forbid county contractors from pressuring or coercing program participants to attend or participate in religious activities;
- Bar publicly funded programs from discriminating based on religion in providing services;
- Prohibit the use of any public funds for the support of any religious activities, including religious instruction, worship and proselytization;
- Prohibit the use of public money to purchase religious materials or for the construction or maintenance of religious buildings; and
- Regularly monitor compliance with these rules by all religiously affiliated contractors.
The settlement does not conclude the lawsuit entirely. The case is still pending against the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and The Firm Foundation.
The lawsuit has been litigated by attorneys Dan Kuhn and Bruce Kelly of Arnold & Porter LLP, Americans United attorneys Ayesha N. Khan, Richard B. Katskee and Alex J. Luchenitser, and Pennsylvania ACLU attorneys Witold J. Walczak, Paula Knudsen and Mary Catherine Roper.
More information about the case, including a copy of the complaint and the settlement, can be found here.