Religion is not a weapon of the state. Now keep saying it until you get it.
The Supreme Court in Iowa gets it, so there are signs of intelligent life in the heartland. (More later on my theory that we in the "fly-over states" are going to be essential in the next round of elections.) The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a state-funded evangelical prison ministry violates the Constitutional separation of church and state. Well, yeah. You can get the story here: NYT.
There are several interesting bits to this. First, actual people had to care enough to bring the case to trial. The legal system doesn't exist solely in a world of ideas; someone has to take action. In this situation, the case was filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. So, people are paying attention and taking action. Excellent. Secondly, the case sets the stage for a broader consideration of the Bush administration's strong commitment to faith-based services. I've ranted about this before, and it's way overdue in my never-humble opinion.
And here's the thing -the place where I might actually have a contribution to make. It's pretty obvious, I suppose, that I'm a faithful person (with issues around religious expression, but I'm working on it. Really.) who also knows a thing or two about service delivery. I absolutely concede -and celebrate- the fact that faith can inspire people to be good and to do good. But forcing people to follow the forms of religion isn't good religion or good social service practice. It doesn't work on either end. People end up with insipid faith and nondescript recovery skills. And the taxpayers have paid for this. Moreover -and I suppose it's less important, but it's still irritating- the stereotype of faithful people as coercive and intellectually bankrupt is perpetuated. Hmmm... I think I've ranted about that before, too. I'm shutting up now.