When considering church/state violations, some of my first courses of action is diplomacy: I ask questions, file right-to-know requests, research, and send e-mails to appropriate individuals. Before threats of litigation, I want to settle problems on my own behalf. Unfortunately, it is often the case that diplomacy does not work and often the case that government officials won't take action or recognize that they are in the wrong until attorneys get involved. when diplomacy fails and there is a clear violation, it is time to act and 'take off the kid gloves.'
Months ago, I contacted the Luzerne County Prison on behalf of the NEPA Freethought Society with the intention of starting a program for non-religious prisoners in order to provide an alternative to the plethora of religious programs in the Luzerne County prison. My first courses of action were to call the prison to gain an audience with the warden, send a letter to the prison via certified mail announcing my intentions, and talk to the secretary of the warden. Rodney Collins, the other co-organizer of the NEPA Freethought Society also spoke to persons at the prison on the telephone. Eventually, after much time that turned out to be wasted, the secretary of the warden said "the warden does not like the idea." Before this, the secretary said that she would have to clear the proposal with a priest in the prison.
After this, asked what, exactly, an organization or individual had to do to get a program started in the prison. I was told that I would have to call this person...and then that person...and then was told to call the prison. This wasted even more time and I got 'the runaround.' I then filed a right-to-know request asking what one needed to do to get a program running in the prison and only got information regarding what programs are in the prison. I hit a dead end, waited for a response from the prison, and hoped for a chance to have a program for non-religious prisoners...and got nothing.
Months later/today, I have considered more options, considered the issue more, and decided that this is a very worthy battle to fight and, once again, to 'get involved with politics' in Luzerne County, stir the pot, and cease to give up.
This appears to be a very clear case of discrimination against prisoners and atheists who wish to run a program in the prison. If religious prisoners are able to request and receive services from ministers, why can't non-religious prisoners have the same rights and why can't a non-religious organization have the same rights as a religious organization?
The prison failed to provide information about how one starts a program in the prison and apparently doesn't care to allow atheists to have a program in the prison and to allow non-religious prisoners to have the same rights as religious prisoners.
An issue of discrimination like this one is not a 'small issue' or a battle that shouldn't be fought. Government entities may not discriminate and the rights of atheists, everywhere, should be defended by those who can do so.