The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is accusing the Decatur, Indiana, Sheriff’s Department of violating the U.S. Constitution because it has supported Christian ministries and celebrated when inmates at the Decatur County Detention Center have committed their lives to Christ and been baptized.
FFRF first sent a complaint letter last July to Sheriff Dave Durant, whose term ended Jan. 1 of this year. The letter cited religious messages the department had posted on Facebook, in addition to holding a “Residents Encounter Christ” (REC) weekend in 2019 and a number of baptisms in the facility.
“By organizing Christian events intended to convert people to Christianity,” the letter said, “and celebrating those conversions on official social media, the Sheriff’s Department creates the appearance that it, and by extension Decatur County, prefers Christianity over all other religions and religion generally over nonreligion.”
Then, on Dec. 29, 2022, the Sheriff’s Department posted on Facebook:
“What a great way to celebrate Christmas and a New Year! DCDC Chaplain Dave Burnett along with REC members baptized nearly 40 men and women after a personal, public profession of Jesus Christ in their lives. Over the past four years, nearly 300 men and women have given their life to Jesus Christ while incarcerated at the Decatur County Detention Center. All glory to GOD!”
This prompted a second letter from FFRF, claiming that the Sheriff’s Department is “actively coercing inmates to participate in its religious programming, which is rampant throughout the Department.”
The new sheriff, Bill Meyerrose, told the Christian Post that he had not seen the complaint letters and did not yet have a response to them.
Roger Byron, senior counsel at First Liberty Institute—which specializes in religious freedom—told Decision: “Allowing a chaplain to be a chaplain, including allowing him to offer religious programs for inmates, does not violate the First Amendment. However, to forbid religious programs because they are religious is unlawful discrimination and would violate the First Amendment, especially when, like here, the jail offers secular programs as well.”
Above: Inmates at the Decatur County Detention Center await baptism.
Photo: Decatur County Sheriff Facebook page