February 14, 2009
La. Prison Agrees to Strip Monument of Bible Reference
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Officials at a Louisiana prison, already under fire for allegedly denying Catholic and Muslim inmates access to religious materials, have agreed to remove a biblical reference from a monument outside the prison gates.
Cathy Fontenot, a spokeswoman at the maximum-security State Penitentiary at Angola, said officials submitted work orders to have what was known as the "Philippians Monument" stripped of the religious references after a complaint was lodged last year by the Louisiana arm of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The monument featured a verse taken from Philippians 3:13 dealing with "forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead." Fontenot said the language will remain, but the verse's citation will be removed.
On the opposite side of the book-like monument, there was a "Prayer of Protection," which the ACLU complained about and is being removed. The prayer reads: "The light of God surrounds you/The love of God enfolds you/The power of God protects you/And the presence of God watches over you;/Wherever you are, God is."
Fontenot said that side of the monument will be filled with artwork or a more secular inspirational message.
Angola Warden Burl Cain said he chose the location by the prison's entrance gates to help with the "moral rehabilitation" of new inmates "arriving at Angola to see that their past stopped when they entered the gates of Angola ... It advises them we are not going to look at the past; to let it go and begin change for the better."
Marjorie Esman, the state ACLU's executive director, told Cain that the ACLU "supports you in your efforts to encourage prisoners to look forward toward changing their lives for the better; we expect those efforts to be conducted in a way that will not endorse one religion over another or religion over non-religion."
The ACLU last week filed suit against Cain and other officials after two inmates -- one Catholic, one Muslim -- said they were denied access to worship services and religious materials.