Religious Freedom Under Attack in PA–Please Help! by David Ludwig

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On February 9, 2018,  the Deacon Board (10 men) of the SCI Dallas Protestant Church were called to the Chapel by Chaplains Jackson & Houck for a meeting.  At this meeting the Chaplains informed the Deacons that a new DC ADM-819 policy regulating Religious Activities in the PA DOC had been issued. They continued saying that because of this new policy there could no longer be a Deacon Board in the church here at Dallas; that an inmate could no longer hold a title (Deacon, Elder, etc) or be in any position of leadership. And also that an inmate could no longer speak to a group of inmates for more than 10 minutes, even under supervision.

Since that meeting it has been discovered that the new DC ADM-819 that was quoted is not an APPROVED DOC policy. It was proposed on Aug 8, 2017 and is still pending approval. Therefore how & why is it being enforced? Inmates were given no notice of this policy through proper channels nor is it available in the prison library to read or copy.

Furthermore this proposed policy is unbiblical, unconstitutional, violates ACA Standards, and conflicts with, and is contrary to other PA DOC policy. It allows preferential treatment of some inmates, and selective persecution of others. This proposed policy hinders the inmates ability to exercise their constitutional right to religious freedom violating ACA standard 4-4514. Inmates should be allowed to practice their religious faith limited only by documentation showing threat to safety of persons involved in such activity or that the activity itself disrupts order in the institution. (ACA 4-4517) Having a Deacon Board and speaking for more than 10 minutes under the supervision of the chaplain is a legitimate religious practice of the Protestant faith. It is neither a safety threat or disrupts order in the institution. Many other inmates outside the Chapel setting, throughout the PA DOC are allowed titles and leadership roles and speak to groups of inmates for more than 10 minutes.

Some examples are:

1. There is an inmate PREA instructor at SCI Dallas who meets with all new incoming inmates to Dallas and presents the PREA program to them. This is a leadership role and encompasses much more speaking time than 10 minutes.

2. There are Certified Peer Specialists on each housing unit, a leadership position. They speak with inmates more than 10 minutes.

3. There are inmate teachers aides in each classroom of the school, another leadership position and they instruct other inmates for more than 10 minutes.

4. In the Activities Departments throughout the PA DOC there are many sports teams all of which have a captain in a leadership role over the team. There are also inmate referee’s officiating these games who have authority over them and the players. And when inmate referee’s attend officiating classes they are taught by another inmate and classes are much longer than 10 minutes.

5. In many of the PA DOC prisons there are inmate organizations; Lifer Organizations, Jaycees, Latins Associations, Kiwanis, Veterans, Betterment Committees, etc. and these groups have presidents, vice presidents, secretarys, treasures, affairs coordinators, etc. All these are titles held, and positions of leadership over the organizations members.

The SCI Dallas Deacon Board has been in existence for over 30 years and is founded on Biblical principles. Deacons are chosen by Biblical guidelines. The Deacons assist the Chaplain in helping men practice the 4 pillars of the Protestant faith; Corporate worship, Prayer, Bible study, and Mission. Each Deacon is assigned an area of focus by the Chaplain according to the Deacon’s God-given gifts; Missions, Education, Worship, Evangelism, Prayer Requests, Scribes, and other areas as needed. The Chaplain is present for, and chairs, all Deacon Board meetings. The Deacon Board is needed now more than ever in that SCI Dallas does not have a full-time Protestant Chaplain due to the continued DOC nonessential staff hiring freeze. And we believe that statistics would show that the SCI Dallas Protestant Church program does more to prevent recidivism than any other DOC programs.

This program, DC ADM-819, must be stopped before it is approved or enforced. Please write to:

Secretary of Corrections John E. Wetzel,  PA Dept. Of Corrections, 1920 Technology Parkway, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050-8507

(717) 728-4109

Thank you for your prayers & consideration!

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