Pentecostal Inmate Allowed to Preach Again

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Adrienne S. Gaines


A New Jersey State Prison inmate has won back the right to
preach to his fellow prisoners.

Howard Thompson Jr., an ordained Pentecostal minister, had
been prohibited from preaching in 2007 when prison officials banned inmates
from preaching, even when supervised by prison staff.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on
Thompson’s behalf last year, arguing that the ban was unconstitutional. On
Monday, the group announced that it reached a settlement with prison officials
that allows Thompson to preach at weekly worship services and to teach Bible
study classes.

“The decision by prison officials in New Jersey to
allow Mr. Thompson to resume practicing his faith is a welcome acknowledgement
that religious freedom in this country extends to all,” said Daniel Mach,
director of litigation for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
“The ban on prisoner preaching was clearly at odds with the law and the
American value of religious liberty, and this decision was long overdue.”

Thompson, who was convicted of murder in 1985 and sentenced
to 30 years to life in prison, has been active in the prison’s Christian
community since his incarceration in 1986. Ordained in 2000, he preached at
Sunday services, taught Bible studies and founded the prison choir. Then two
years ago, prison officials issued a blanket ban on such preaching by

The ACLU said the prison’s chaplaincy staff actively
supported and encouraged Thompson’s ministry work, believing he was a positive
influence on other inmates.

Thompson said the ban kept him from fulfilling his ministry
calling, which he had done “honestly, effectively and without any incident for

“All I have ever wanted was to have my religious rights
restored so that I could continue working with men who want to renew their
lives through the study and practice of their faith,” Thompson said.

The settlement does not allow Thompson to lead services, but
permits him to preach with the consent of a prison chaplain or approved
volunteer. It also requires him to provide an outline of his sermon or Bible
study lesson to the chaplain or volunteer in advance for review and approval.

If approval is denied, Thompson must be given a written explanation of the

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