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Faith and Religion

Section Objective

In this section, we will explore how the State and various right-wing organizations exploit faith and religion in the criminal justice system to further a conservative Agenda.

Chapter Outline

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Faith and religion play a complex and controversial role in the criminal justice system. From the growing number of Christian ministries and bible-study groups in prison to church-based inner city programs for ex-prisoners to the recent controversy over the role of posting the Ten Commandments in public spaces, the influence of faith and religion, especially Christianity, is visible in all aspects of the legal and criminal justice systems. The 2001 establishment of the White House Office on Faith-based Initiatives is a clear indication that faith and religion, central to the right-wing political agenda, are going to be even more enmeshed in the nation's criminal justice system.

Faith and religion have often been important sources of strength for those caught in the criminal justice system; Malcolm X's religious conversion in prison is just one example of the pivotal role faith has played in the struggle for Black liberation. Critiquing the role of faith becomes tricky. When is faith empowering and when is it being used to oppress? Should we fight for increased religious access or a ban on the practice of religion in the criminal justice system? While we recognize the positive role faith and religion may play in an individual's life, we also believe the Right's manipulation of faith to push a conservative cultural and policy agenda must be exposed and resisted.

The Right's faith-based policies are especially destructive because they accomplish multiple right-wing goals. They function to tear down the constitutional principle of Church-State separation. More importantly, these policies seek to destroy the social safety net activists have worked so hard to create and preserve; while at the same time further institutionalizing racism, sexism, and homophobia, and promoting neoliberal economic policies.

Chapter Contents

Pages 93-123 of Defending Justice, edited by Palak Shah

  • Role of the Right: Religious Activism
    • Christian Right and Prison Fellowship Ministries
    • Nation of Islam
  • Role of the State: Faith-based Initiative
  • Organizing Advice: Allying with the Christian Right? A Q&A with Stop Prisoner Rape
  • Additional Resources



Defending Justice is a publication of Political Research Associates (PRA), an independent nonprofit research center that exposes the Right and larger oppressive movements and institutions. PRA produces research and analytic tools to inform and support progressive activism.

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