Thursday, March 3, 2011

Kristine Holmgren Wins, Theocracy Loses

Kristine HolmgrenThe assassination of Pakistan's only Christian cabinet member reminds me how much I oppose theocracy. Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, was shot at least 25 times. His killers left behind pamphlets explaining they had killed him because he opposed anti-blasphemy laws. Those are the laws that make it legal to kill anyone who defames Islam.

I know it's dangerous to compare things that happen in this country to extremities like this. But (you knew there had to be a but) it does seem some Americans wish the U.S. were a theocracy. A story in today's the Pioneer Press was a good example.

It told of Kristine Holmgren, a Presbyterian minister and former Star Tribune columnist I used to read long before the days of Daughter Number Three, who just settled a suit against the Minnesota Department of Corrections. It seems Holmgren began work as a chaplain at the women's prison in Shakopee in 2006, at the same time that a faith-based program called InnerChange Freedom Initiative was underway at the prison.

The Initiative's goal was to prepare prisoners for life after discharge. Its methods were "based on the teachings of Jesus." (This is the program started by former Nixon aide Charles Colson after he finished his prison stint for Watergate.) Volunteers for the Initiative -- who just happened to belong to the same evangelical mega-church as our past governor and his corrections commissioner -- were, in Holmgren's opinion, coercive and demeaning to women. The PiPress's Dave Orrick writes: "In one case, inmates she surveyed objected to how some of the volunteers were framing alcoholism, lesbianism and out-of-wedlock childbearing as sins."

Holmgren, who had been working at the prison for just under six months, complained to her supervisors about the volunteers and their methods. Then, just one day before her probationary employment period would have ended and she would have been covered under civil service protections of due process, she was suddenly fired. No reason was given (I imagine no reason was required because of the probationary period).

Holmgren sued the state and yesterday the state settled with her for $227,500. She is not prohibited from speaking about the case under the terms of the settlement, and I hope she does.

InnerChange is no longer at the Shakopee prison, but it's still at two Minnesota men's prisons, operating without state funding.


Kristine Holmgren said...

Thanks for sharing the news of the lawsuit - and I have a slight correction. The program is STILL at the Shakopee women's facility. The contract is up for renewal this year - and if approved, the Innerfaith Freedom Initiative would be with us in Shakopee and Lino Lakes for five more years - using tax dollars to indoctrinate incarcerated Minnesota men and women to conservative, Evangelical Christianity. Write your legislator today to stop this horrific thing. Thanks! - Kristine Holmgren

Daughter Number Three said...

Thanks, Kristine, for the update. Not sure if I missed that in the articles or if it was omitted... interesting, if the latter.