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Christian prison program is focus of Iowa case

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Arguments have concluded in a closely watched church-state case over whether Iowa's Christian prison program is unconstitutional and should end.

The InnerChange Freedom Initiative at Newton Correctional Facility houses inmates in a special unit and enrolls them in a program of immersion in Christian values in order to improve behavior, reduce recidivism and protect public safety.

Kansas, Minnesota and Texas have similar programs.

Attorney Alex Luchenitser, representing Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, sued in U.S. District Court in Des Moines, saying the program seeks converts and requires participation in religious activities.

Lawyers for the Iowa Department of Corrections and Prison Fellowship Ministries, which sponsors InnerChange, said inmates participate voluntarily. Deputy Attorney General Gordon Allen said "this is a program that works . . . and it works constitutionally."

Anthony Troy, representing Prison Fellowship, disputed a claim that InnerChange excludes inmates who aren't Christian. "Inmates of all faiths and no faiths are welcome," Troy said.