ALEXANDRIA — A Virginia jail has ended a program that inmates dubbed the “God Pod” after a lawsuit alleged it provided favorable treatment to Christians and discriminated against Muslims.
Court documents show the Riverside Regional Jail south of Richmond in Prince George County ended the program on the advice of counsel after a lawsuit was filed last year by Muslim inmates represented by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
A judge in federal court in Alexandria heard arguments Friday on whether the Life Learning Program implemented by a jail chaplain violated constitutional prohibitions against establishment of religion.
Inmates said those in the “God Pod” received preferred status, such as their own cell and use of a television and microwave. Jail officials acknowledged the program was built on biblical principles but said it was open to all faiths.
Deborah Kane, a lawyer for the chaplain who was in charge of the program, said the Bible is a religious text accorded respect in Judaism and Islam, so it’s wrong to assume that a Bible-based curriculum favors Christians.
The chaplain who ran the program worked for the Richmond-based Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, which had a contract to provide chaplain services at Riverside. On its website, Good News says its mission is to “bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to prisoners.”
Gadeir Abbas, a CAIR lawyer, said the evidence shows only Christians were picked to live in the God Pod, despite assertions that the program was open to all. He said the evidence is clear that the only people who could avail themselves of the program “were those willing to commit themselves to a lifetime of living in accordance with the Bible.”
The suit also faulted the jail for failing to provide timely meals to Muslim inmates during Ramadan, when observant Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.
U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga said he would issue a decision at a later date.