A prominent atheist organization is demanding that an Indiana sheriff’s office cease the promotion of inmates’ baptisms on its social media pages and is threatening legal action if such actions continue.
At issue is a Dec. 29 Facebook post from the Decatur County Sheriff’s department celebrating the baptism of some 300 people in its system. The post includes photos of men and women being baptized.
“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,” the Facebook post said, referencing Residents Encountering Christ (REC), a faith-based ministry. “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!”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a Jan. 13 letter to the Decatur County Sheriff’s department, claiming the post violated the U.S. Constitution.
“We write to ensure that the Decatur County Sheriff’s Department ceases its promotion of, and official affiliation with, Christianity on its official social media pages and through its religious events, programs, and activities in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” the Freedom From Religion Foundation letter said. “While the DCDC may permissibly accommodate the free exercise rights of its inmates by providing opportunities for religious worship, Decatur County and its employees may not organize, promote, participate in, or coerce inmates into participating in these religious events and programs.”
In 2019, then-Sheriff David Durant told the Greensburg Daily News that he had seen inmates transformed through the programs led by Residents Encountering Christ. The goal, he said, is to prevent inmates from committing crimes upon their release.
“Everyone knows that the longest distance to travel is the 18 inches between the head and the heart,” he said in 2019.
“If you can change the heart during that journey, everything will follow suit. Whether it be alcohol or drugs or poverty that are creating the cycle, we only have to change their hearts to stop the process,” Durant said.
Photo courtesy: Emiliano Bar/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.