In a comment a couple of days ago, Sharon referenced a truly appalling situation in Floyd County, Indiana. She’d received a request for a donation from the Indiana Sheriff’s Association. The newsletter accompanying the request profiled a program instituted by the sheriff of Floyd County: Residents Encountering Christ. The newsletter described a 3 day retreat, reporting that Sheriff Bush “went in and talked to inmates, sharing his faith and encouraging them in theirs. In all, 41 inmates were baptized during this event. Local news media took note of the program’s success.”

As Sharon wrote, “I’m not sure which I find more appalling, that a law enforcement officer uses his position of power to proselytize to inmates or that local ‘journalists’ consider baptisms achieved under these conditions to be  ‘a success.'”

I am equally appalled.

Law enforcement officers assume an obligation to abide by the Constitution. There is a very lengthy string of  legal precedents confirming the lawlessness–and cluelessness– of Sheriff Bush’s behavior. 

That cluelessness extended to the news coverage.According to the local News and Tribune (paywall),

On July 24th, 41 Inmates at the Floyd County Jail that volunteered to take part in Residents Encounter Christ (REC) were baptized. What a powerful moment to witness! 

One has to be truly naive–or blissfully unaware of the reality of power relationships–to believe that inmates “volunteered.” (As numerous women can attest, when someone with authority to make your life miserable “requests” some “accommodation,” it’s hard to refuse.) 

There is absolutely no legal argument supporting Sheriff Bush’s appalling conduct. Numerous Supreme Court opinions have echoed Justice Black’s words in Engel v. Vitale:

The constitutional prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion must at least mean that, in this country, it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government.

That case considered the constitutionality of a rule promulgated by the New York State Board of Regents, authorizing public schools to hold a short, “voluntary” prayer at the beginning of each school day. The Court held that state laws permitting prayer “must be struck down as a violation of the Establishment Clause because that prayer was composed by governmental officials as a part of a governmental program to further religious beliefs.”

It is true–and very troubling–that the current Supreme Court has eroded previous First Amendment jurisprudence. But even those regrettable decisions don’t come close to making Sheriff Bush’s activities permissible. Perhaps someone should share these paragraphs from Justice Black’s decision with the Sheriff.

By the time of the adoption of the Constitution, our history shows that there was a widespread awareness among many Americans of the dangers of a union of Church and State. These people knew, some of them from bitter personal experience, that one of the greatest dangers to the freedom of the individual to worship in his own way lay in the Government’s placing its official stamp of approval upon one particular kind of prayer or one particular form of religious services. They knew the anguish, hardship and bitter strife that could come when zealous religious groups struggled with one another to obtain the Government’s stamp of approval from each King, Queen, or Protector that came to temporary power.

The Constitution was intended to avert a part of this danger by leaving the government of this country in the hands of the people, rather than in the hands of any monarch. But this safeguard was not enough. Our Founders were no more willing to let the content of their prayers and their privilege of praying whenever they pleased be influenced by the ballot box than they were to let these vital matters of personal conscience depend upon the succession of monarchs. The First Amendment was added to the Constitution to stand as a guarantee that neither the power nor the prestige of the Federal Government would be used to control, support or influence the kinds of prayer the American people can say – that the people’s religions must not be subjected to the pressures of government for change each time a new political administration is elected to office. Under that Amendment’s prohibition against governmental establishment of religion, as reinforced by the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment, government in this country, be it state or federal, is without power to prescribe by law any particular form of prayer which is to be used as an official prayer in carrying on any program of governmentally sponsored religious activity.

Sponsorship of religious activity by a government official is unconstitutional.

Floyd County has a Sheriff who is either ignorant of the Constitution or willing to ignore it. In either case, he’s unfit for public office.


  1. As a Minister who did volunteer service work in multiple Indiana state prisions, for more than a decade, I am horrified at the thought that a Sheriff would ‘use’ their position (and all it implies) to influence inmates …

    Especially inside the criminal justice systems … it could easily be interpreted as a form of intimidation.

    I believe in ‘freedom of religious choice’ but have witnessed the fact that many religious groups bring in all kinds of ‘perks’ for inmates who attend their programs and know (from talking with dozens of inmates over 16 years service) how it affects them.

    Especially if the ‘sheriff’ spoke about his position or wore a uniform when delivering services … implying the ‘approval’ of the state/government.

  2. He is a Christian who may not understand your view of the law, many don’t understand how iur applications and understanding of the constitution has changed over the years based upon a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote.
    Congress cant prohibit or create laws yes, but citizens such as a Sheriff being unfit for using principles if hope and rehabilitation for them is necessary for the prisoner, one must find a way around this. If secularism uses an argument that removes the hope from individuals that clearly need some kind of rehabilitation the what goid is secularism.
    What the Sheriff needs to do is simply install someone from the community to head up this program and say he supports and is involved in it.
    My cousin who graduated second at Princeton law works as a counselor to women who made one bad decision that put them there. As a Christian she rehabilitates them thru loving kindness in their situation.
    I personally have seen the pain on the childrens lives whose parents are in prison. I personally have held them as they cried for their mom who will not bechome for another five years.
    What is the fruit of the spirit that a young person in Christ is to develop once a person becomes a christian?
    Against these principles there is no law. There is no law that can put them back there if they apply it. Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, charity, and self-control. Hopefully we can live by these principles daily

  3. John S, may I remind you that not everyone is Christian? Practicing “loving kindness” is one thing; proselytizing while in a position of power is quite another, and totally unacceptable—and in this case, illegal. Keep your come to Jesus rationales to yourself.

  4. John S, One does not have to be a Christian to practice “loving kindness’. Even atheists are capable of this. In fact, those atheists who I know do make a practice of it.

  5. If you have ever been in a psychiatric ward then you will know that certain hospitals have bibles available for people to read and have chaplains available as well who will talk with patients. The “talons” of Christianity are far reaching as well when you consider nonprofit missionaries like “Samaritan’s Purse” intent on spreading the Love of Christ to people in impoverished areas across the world. There are of course homeless shelters as well with Christian programs.

    In politics we talk about “red” and “blue” waves which reminds me of a movie called “the wave” about how Hitler convinced the Germans during the Holocaust.

    I think the convergence of white nationalism ( which is coming out of the military according to a documentary I saw) and politics is a powder keg that has already caused Jan. 6.

  6. I’m sure Donald Trump would be wildly excited about being the leader of some sort of “Crusades” to wipe out any person against his followers. What better people to convince than a bunch of Christians across the world.

    Frankly, it gives me the creeps. How people can’t see through him is beyond my understanding. Truly he’s like “Scar” from the Lion King. Be Prepared Indeed.

  7. The sheriff is doing a good deed, but he’s just confused. He may have a great story of woe to share with inmates and wants to convince them that Jesus can lead them to a path of morality. However, he could invite other groups like AA to share their message instead.

    Overzealous may be the problem for the sheriff. Let’s give him kudos for bringing a positive message into the lives of lost souls, but kindly steer him away from doing so personally since it violates our US Constitution. There are plenty of groups that would deliver a message of hope that could get them started on a firm spiritual bedrock.

  8. That sheriff doesn’t give a single damn for the law, the Constitution or anything else except his misguided religion. He’s been coopted by a church that has sent him forth to spread the “word” to those who can’t do anything about it. Good deeds, my foot. Gimme a break!

    He represents precisely how republics get eroded from within by seemingly innocent acts which end up being insidiously destructive to the minds of the people.

    As Suzanne says, this sort of thing gives me the creeps. As these far-out “Christians” become more bold, their actions become more Dark Ages – like.

    How can law enforcement be so backward-thinking in times like these? Have they nothing else to offer? Guess not.

  9. Don’t get me wrong Christianity does a lot of good. However, I myself have been treated like a leper by Christians when they find out I don’t attend church. Like I’m trying to infiltrate them somehow and be sinful.

    I’m worried about the amount of “fear” being instilled in Christians that someone could co-opt for non benevolent purposes. When it becomes “us” verses “them” instead of all of us together.

    I watched the attempted bookbanning at the Fishers library where people were getting up stating they were Christians and disapproving of the books by claiming they were inappropriate for children. One poor lady was so scared her voice was shaking and she was practically in tears. These people were convinced that “liberals” or “atheists” were pushing their agenda on them through the library and that librarians were either “duped” or in cahoots. Thanks to idiots like Ron Desantis I imagine.

  10. Indeed, both the sheriff’s actions and the press coverage of it is appalling.
    Using a position of authority to proselytize is ALWAYS an abuse of power – and being a government official doing that has constitutional implications.

    There is a fine line between offering hope and redemption to people who are in need of it, and coercing a captive or desperate audience. I have a similar issue homeless shelters and such that “strongly encourage” people to participate.

    And I’m no fan of what passes for “Christianity” these days either. Most of it is naked politics with a little “Jesus” thrown in for window dressing and non-profit status. The sheriff is an elected official – why do I suspect this was more for his political benefit than saving souls?
    Let me guess… the press was alerted ahead of time and there’s a staged “photo op” photo. How else would the reporter be at that place and time to witness it.

  11. I know that Sheila is a one-in-a-million lawyer.

    She’s free. She teaches law, not advises clients. She knows the Constitution, the wellspring of American law. She knows politics but is not a politician pandering for votes. She has a balanced regard for corporations and the government. She knows personally the wealthy and the working. She has a Board of Directors (husband and kids) who know international, national, state, and local cultures. She has feelers out into the intellectual world through her inbox. She’s on our side. She’s not for sale.

    Maybe I underestimated her. Maybe she’s one in 8,077,194,882 (as of today).

  12. One other thing I don’t know is her Faith. I do know a little bit about her journey through life. I’ve never met her. I’d like to someday. Times running out.

  13. Pete–you are FAR too kind. Wish I was half as meritorious as you think! (As for my faith, it is in human goodness, which I still believe exists in most of us….

  14. When I first read of the “…program’s success,” I had the same recoil…”What the hell?!
    Hey, John S., Christians have no corner on “Loving kindness,” in fact too many of them have shown that they give not a whit for it.
    Vernon, you put it well.
    Suzanne, your comments take me right to one of Voltaire’s often quoted comments, ““Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” Those Christians who believe in TFG, seem capable of any atrocity to which he can stir them up to…or anyone else who comes along. They are primed to “Just Believe.”
    I would appreciate someone from Indiana providing information on whether, or not, this sheriff experiences any blowback from any authorities based on his misbehavior.

  15. No, Todd, the sheriff doesn’t get a pass for not knowing his job and the legal and ethical boundaries around abuse of power even if you think he must be sweet and well-intentioned (which I don’t believe for a minute and I’m sure the inmates he basically coerced also didn’t believe for a minute). It is his job to know his job.

    He also would not have been okay to “encourage” a 12-step program, because those have *also* been repeatedly found to be in violation of the Establishment Clause. This article has good links to case law:

    Here is some guidance from the Office of Civil Rights on the topic.

    In my training as a clinical psychologist, I was repeatedly also appalled by the implicit (and even at times explicit) inclusion of religion in substance abuse treatment programs and in judicial orders to participate in those programs without also providing non-religious options. If you are mandated to go to “100 12-step meetings in 100 days” by a judge before coming back to have the judge maybe decide whether you get to stay out of jail, or if that same judge mandates that you a residential treatment program in order to avoid going to jail, and that program mandates that you participate in 12-step, or even makes it “encouraged” because, remember, you are dependent upon the evaluation of staff as to how well you are “engaging in treatment,” which will affect how the judge later decides whether you have been rehabilitated well enough to be released…

    …if you cannot see how *inherently* coercive such a supposedly “voluntary” set-up is, then you are even more foolish and naive than you imagine this sheriff to be. And you must have lived an incredibly privileged life to have never had *any* situation in which you felt the need to accept someone in power over you abusing that power without saying the quiet part out loud. I’ve been there. (Remember, I said I was a trainee in these situations…)

  16. I know this may be out of place, but it keeps coming to mind as I read these articles. When one of the founding myths of this country promotes the Puritans as paragons of religious freedom, stuff like this going to happen and be praised. I often read stories where religion is treated as charity, and that really bothers me. Religion and religious institutions often do charitable things, and that’s a good thing. However, religion isn’t by default positive. It can be quite manipulative and brutal in its world view. I have this saying that seems very appropriate, “When an ideology, any ideology, becomes more important than the people it affects is where the essence of evil lies.” I find what the sheriff did as very troubling.
    Using positions of authority to ‘encourage’ religious participation to a captive audience is a bad precedent. I also dislike when parole boards and judges use religious belief consideration in early release. I think doing good works and counseling other prison should be considered but those done in the name of religion should be given the same status as those done within a secular world view. Your religion is your business but your actions have consequences. Positive actions should get positive responses and negative actions should have negative consequences. I don’t care what motivates you you should be judged by the effects.

  17. I know many very good Christian and Jewish folks as well as agnostics, atheists, and spiritualists who are kind, giving, thoughtful etc., but simply adhering to a religion does not make one kind, giving, thoughtful etc. (See the Speaker, TV preachers et al.). I’m sure there were many on this third orb from the sun who were kind, giving, thoughtful etc. long before Jesus made the scene a couple of thousand years ago, as well as the Buddha, spiritualists, witches, and various other occult organizations since in search of something to believe.

    I’m also sure there are thousands if not millions who “go to church” as a social means of establishing their community credentials but in their heart of hearts do not believe that a man raised the dead, walked on water, and rose from the grave. Many, including Thomas Jefferson and a Lutheran pastor I know, think the miracles cited in the bible didn’t happen but were added to the biblical account by believing contemporaries to embellish the belief that this Jewish philosopher was the Son of God and had the power to raise those from the dead who believed such account.

    One might reasonably ask why the Son of God invested with superhuman powers needed such authenticating “miracles” to be believed since, if he were so all-powerful, why didn’t he end the Roman Empire of his day, poverty, slavery etc.? Jefferson’s edited bible removes such “miracles” and comes up with the historical Jesus as an ethical philosopher but the son of Joseph and Mary.

    Spreading any religious view from those in governmental positions of power over those in their custody is a constitutional no-no, even if in the long view such views somehow turn out to be correct. Government and religion are oil and water and cannot successfully mix, as demonstrated repeatedly through human history. See religious wars between Catholics and Protestants, the Holy Roman Empire, crusaders and Saracens etc. We today are free to practice any religion we choose, but do not have any right to use government to enforce such choice on our fellow citizens. Take note, Mr. Speaker.

  18. Here is the thing about humans. They are all we got. A big, diverse, loud, sometimes obnoxious family too big to put around a table to celebrate and too argumentative to have under the same roof.

    Might as well try to love them all. ‘Tis the season to.

  19. There’s a program at Christmas time called “The giving Tree” where people pick an ornament that has a child’s first name, age and likes/interests on it. The children’s parent or parents are prisoners. After advent and close to Christmas there is a party for the inmates and their children. The inmates give their children the gifts. I would suggest that that there are Christians who lament over the suffering of others and try to ease their burden.
    I picked up a copy of Thomas Paines “Rights of Man” the other day at Half Price Books while Christmas shopping. He writes about the oppressive form of government known as Church State and it’s roots of conquest and monarchy.
    With freedom of speech in this country on public forums like this one, I hate to hear others try to tell others not to speak.

  20. I have too many cuss words to write in my comment about this religious stuff crammed down our throats all year long. Christians are the most bigoted hypocritical people I know so I have no use for them. But, My spouse is a Christian and he prays everyday alone and doesn’t need a church to “practice” his religious beliefs. I try not to cuss him out when he jokes that Jesus is coming because I throw it right back at him. I say, Well, it’s been nice knowing you but if Jesus comes back, I’m going to hell and you can praise him for eternity. I find that future life horrifying. I’m not kidding. I’d rather go to hell, if there is one. Sheesh

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