One month after a detention center in New Mexico reversed its decision to block a local prison ministry from performing public baptism, six inmates have been baptized and more are to be expected.
Last month, legal advocacy group Liberty Counsel sent letter threatening a federal lawsuit over Curry County Detention Center’s refusal to permit public baptism, prompting the center to reverse its position and allow Sixteenth & Pile Church of Christ to baptize inmates in a portable baptismal pool.
“Rather than throwing up roadblocks to Christian faith and worship, prisons should welcome the positive changes that the Christian conversion brings and the role that baptism plays in the inmates making a public confession of burying the old life and being resurrected in Jesus Christ,” commented Mathew Staver, lawyer and founder of Liberty Counsel, said in a press statement after the detention center’s reversal.
Staver said that with the high tendency for inmates to relapse and return to their previous pattern of engaging in criminal habits, the prisoners are in “desperate need of better ways to rehabilitate inmates” that offer them more opportunities to become better citizens.
Sixteenth & Pile Church of Christ had contacted Liberty Counsel for assistance after county officials refused to permit baptism by water immersion at the local detention center. The ministry had offered to provide a mobile baptismal tank in a secure area of the facility and pay any additional security costs. Ministry leaders had also advised the warden that a prison ministry in neighboring towns, like Portales, New Mexico, had used a similar procedure without opposition and difficulties.
To support Sixteenth & Pile, Liberty Counsel sent a letter to the warden and the county explaining that failure to allow the baptisms violated the inmates' constitutional right to free exercise of religion and also violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, a United States federal law that prohibits the imposition of burdens on the ability of prisoners to worship as they please, as well as making it easier for Churches and other religious institutions to avoid state restrictions.
Despite the letter, the center continued to strongly refuse to allow the baptisms, until the prison ministry warned the warden that it was serious about pursuing the matter further and advised the county that a federal lawsuit by Liberty Counsel was unavoidable.
In the end, the detention center reversed its decision and the warden there agreed to allow a portable baptismal pool to be used for monthly baptisms at the detention center.
Members of Sixteenth & Pile Church of Christ said that they were thankful for the permission they received and proud of their local officials.