The fight has begun over a faith-based initiative set to take effect Nov. 1, which would use tax dollars to fund religious organizations ministering to inmates of Oklahoma's prison system.
Passed in March by the Oklahoma House, House Bill 2101, the "Transformational Justice Act," purports to "encourage state prisons to partner with faith-based, community and voluntary organizations to help inmates rejoin society and reduce the rate of repeat offenders," according to the office of House Speaker Lance Cargill, one of the principal champions of the act.
Cargill said the measure has two parts: one setting up a system that directs the activities under the act, and one that funds that system.
"But, the act has no money in it," Cargill said. "It set up a revolving fund with the office so (the initiative) can be created, basically an account. The Legislature later came back and said, 'We want an additional $100,000 to go into the account that was set up to support these activities in the prisons.'"
However, state Rep. Al Lindley, D-Oklahoma City, recently requested an opinion regarding the constitutionality of the law from the office of Attorney General Drew Edmondson.
The Rev. Jeff Hamilton " an associate minister of First Christian Church of Oklahoma City, whose organization, Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma City, questions the plan " said he and others are backing Lindley's efforts "to protect the separation of church and state."
"If it's faith-based, then why do only certain Christian groups know about it, and why are they always the ones that are fundamental and conservative?" said Hamilton. "Why don't Muslim groups or Buddhist groups know about it? It's really only for certain Christian groups and is not inclusive." "Ben Fenwick