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Parolee Sues After Being Forced To Spend 5 Months In Jail After Refusing To Attend Religious Classes

Denver, CO- An appellate brief was filed on Monday with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Mark Janny, by the Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and DLA Piper LLP (US), a law firm.

The appeal argues that a federal district court wrongly dismissed Janny’s case, in which he asserted violations of his First Amendment rights. The defendant initially represented himself.

Janny, an atheist, claims that in February 2015 his parole was revoked after he refused to take part in worship services, Bible studies and religious counseling mandated by the Denver Rescue Mission, a Christian homeless shelter.

Initially,  Janny hoped to meet his parole residency requirements by staying with family friends. But the appeal claims that Colorado Department of Corrections Parole Officer John Gamez, insisted that Janny live at a Christian-based homeless shelter in Fort Collins. Gam­ez had “an informal arrangement” with the mission’s director, Jim Carmack, to place parolees there.

The mission also operated a Steps to Success program intended to “expose” participants “to the good news of Jesus Christ in a supportive community.” Although only a few mission residents were part of this Steps to Success program, Carmack and employee Tom Kon­­stanty told Janny on his second day that he would be required to participate in the program’s twice-weekly Bible studies, one-on-one religious counseling, daily morning devotions, daily chapel services and attendance at an outside church service every Sunday.

Janny told them he wouldn’t participate in religious activities. But Carmack told Janny he couldn’t live at the mission unless he agreed to pray, study the Bible and join other religious activities. Carmack forbade Janny to tell other residents he was an atheist and told him he didn’t “have religious rights here.” Konstanty echo­ed Carmack’s directives, telling Janny, “[Y]ou’re going to do the program, or you’re going to go to jail.”

Janny claims when he asked to be excused from religious programming or to be permitted to live elsewhere, Gamez revoked his parole, and Janny was jailed for another five months.

“Throwing someone behind bars for refusing to attend church services is blatantly unconstitutional. Government officials can’t abuse their positions of power to convert  parolees, or anyone else, to their preferred faith,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

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