The Kansas Department of Corrections and a prison's staff have been named in a lawsuit filed by an inmate. (Associated Press)
A female convicted murderer in Kansas filed a lawsuit this week, alleging that prison officials have been “imposing Christian beliefs” on her and other inmates.
The plaintiff, Shari Webber-Dunn, is serving her sentence in the state’s Topeka Correctional Facility. She says officials there have created a “coercive atmosphere where inmates are pressured to spend their time in a highly religious atmosphere and to participate in religious activities and prayers, thus violating the establishment clause,” the Wichita Eagle reported.
The establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
Webber-Dunn said the prison’s “coercive atmosphere” includes Christian-themed radio and television broadcasts, an 8-foot cross and proselytizing messages, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
She alleges religious bias on the part of the Kansas Department of Corrections and the correctional facility’s staff.
Webber-Dunn says she practices a Wiccan tradition called Thelema. In her lawsuit, she claims, “There is no valid reason why Christian materials should be displayed there in a state-owned and operated correctional facility.”
The American Humanist Association (AHA), based in Washington, D.C., joined Webber-Dunn’s lawsuit, accusing the prison of engaging in a government establishment of religion.
“Prisons are not exempt from the Constitution and prisoners do not lose the shield from state-sponsored religion provided by the establishment clause,” said David Niose, legal director of the AHA.
Separately, Webber-Dunn’s attorneys requested that a U.S. District Court trial be held in Kansas City, Kan.
Samir Arif, a Department of Corrections spokesman, declined to comment on the pending legal matter.
The lawsuit came as Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, awaits U.S. Senate confirmation as President Donald Trump’s choice to be international ambassador of religious freedom, the Capital-Journal reported.
This undated photo shows Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback at a press conference. (Associated Press)
Webber-Dunn, 49, received a minimum 40-year sentence after her conviction on first-degree murder charges following the shooting death of her estranged husband, Scott Webber, in 1994, the newspaper reported.