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Christian TV to be Piped into Oregon Prisons

Thursday, October 16, 2014


jlwo via Compfight cc

Religious broadcasting is infiltrating Oregon’s prison system, raising questions about a possible constitutional breach as it relates to the separation of church and state. 

Trinity Broadcasting Network announced this week it will be broadcasting its Second Chance programming in 14 of Oregon’s prisons. The network pays for equipment and installation and offers four of its faith-based programs. Oregon’s prisons will join 750 other prisons across the country that have received fee TBN broadcasting since the program started in 2007. 

“This broadcasting of these highly religious programs in the prisons raises a very serious church state issues under the U.S. Constitution,” said Alex Luchenitser, Associate Legal Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “The prison should not permit this programming to be played in common areas of the prison. It should only be permitted to the extent that inmates are given the choice of religious and secular programs.” 

The Second Chance programming offers inmates 24-hour access to church and ministry programs, relevant Bible studies, engaging talk shows, clean movies and comedy, extreme sports, music, and many other types of programs, Mark Reynolds, national director for TBN Second Chance, said in a press release. 

"These powerful networks, installed by TBN Second Chance in correctional facilities across America, are helping to plant seeds of hope and healing in the lives of tens of thousands of men and women serving time in prison," Reynolds said. "Through the help and prayer of our many partners, along with the planning and mutual agreement of the state's correctional officials, we look forward to this same success throughout Oregon's prison facilities."

Luchenitser said he has been involved with cases where private groups come in and take over programming, giving special treatment to inmates who participate in religious activities. 

“We’ve seen lots of different efforts by religious groups to come into prisons and evangelize prisons and try to win converts,” he said. 

Vulnerable Inmates 

Prisons accepting this type of free programming should be cautious as prisoners are particularly vulnerable to coercion, Luchenitser said. 

“Prisoners will do anything to try and get out of prison faster so if there’s any indication that a prisoner might have a better chance of parole then many are very likely to (participate in a religious program),” he said. 

Prisoners should be given control over what they watch, he added. 

“If it’s played in common areas where inmates really can’t avoid it then it’s very likely a violation of church and state separation,” Luchenitser said. 

But Oregon Department of Correction officials said many inmates have their own TVs, paid for with commissary funds and that they have many options in the common areas. 

“They can choose whatever channel they want to watch,” said Dennis Holmes, administrator in religious services for Oregon’s prisons. He added most likely inmates will choose football or a movie over religious programs in the common area. “It’s pretty unlikely, to be honest, in a day room that they would be watching that (TBN).” 

Prisoners also have the option of watching DVDs from the library of other religious programming, such as shows on the Buddhist or Muslim faiths. Those programs are donated as well, Holmes said. 

“It’s just an availability,” Holmes said. “It’s not a program. It’s not mandated. It’s just another offering.”

Massive Reach 

But TBN, the nation’s largest religious broadcaster, has stretched its programming to nearly one million inmates. 

"From neighborhoods to nations, from households and families to communities of every kind, TBN is committed to taking the gospel message to every corner of the earth through Christian television," TBN Vice President Matthew Crouch said in the press release. "We are thankful for the success we have witnessed through TBN Second Chance, and we look forward to God's continued blessing over all of TBN's broadcast efforts around the world."


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