Mich. prisons ordered to allow faith group that believes in race separation
Two inmates sued the Corrections Department, seeking recognition of Christian Identity, under a federal law that protects the religious freedom of people confined to prison
By Ed White
DETROIT — Michigan’s prison system has been ordered to recognize Christian Identity as a religious group, despite concerns by state officials that its belief in the separation of races could pose a security threat behind bars.
A federal appeals court said there are ways to keep the group in check without a sweeping ban.
“Each (prisoner) testified that he was nonviolent and would prevent others from acting aggressively at group services,” the court said Monday in 3-0 opinion.
“The department offered silence in response — it did not, for example, present any evidence that plaintiffs or any other inmates who follow Christian Identity are violent,” the court said in an opinion by Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Griffin.
Two inmates sued the Corrections Department, seeking recognition of Christian Identity and the ability to hold services, under a federal law that protects the religious freedom of people confined to prison.
Christian Identity followers believe white people are God’s chosen people. Critics such as the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights organization, says the ideology is a key belief for white supremacists and anti-government movements.
The Corrections Department argued that recognizing the group would be risky.
“A prison is a microcosm of society, and racial tensions always exist in the prison. And taking a certified step towards that would only worsen existing racial tensions,” senior intelligence analyst Todd Belcher testified in 2021.
The appeals court said prison staff typically would be present to monitor services, and no inmate would be in charge of guarding the door. The court also noted that the Corrections Department already has rules about attending faith services, including an annual limit on bouncing among religions.