A Kansas female convicted murderer sued her prison officials this week, alleging that they have been “imposing Christian beliefs” on her and other inmates.
Shari Webber-Dunn, who is serving her sentence in the state’s Topeka Correctional Facility, 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.”
Webber-Dunn the prison’s “coercive atmosphere” includes Christian-themed radio and television broadcasts, an 8-foot cross and proselytizing messages.
The inmate is accusing the Kansas Department of Corrections and the facility staff of religious bias. Webber-Dunn practices on her own a Wiccan tradition called Thelema. In her lawsuit, the inmate says there is “no valid reason why
Christian materials should be displayed there in a state-owned and operated correctional facility.”
Webber-Dunn bases her lawsuit on the constitutionally-protected First Amendment where it states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
The inmate has also found an ally in the American Humanist Association (AHA), based in Washington, D.C., which joined Webber-Dunn’s lawsuit. AHA is also accusing the prison of engaging in a government establishment of religion. The organization’s legal director David Niose said: “Prisons are not exempt from the Constitution and prisoners do not lose the shield from state-sponsored religion provided by the establishment clause.”
The lawsuit came just as Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback awaits U.S. Senate confirmation as President Donald Trump’s choice to be an international ambassador of religious freedom.
Webber-Dunn, 49, is serving her sentence of a minimum 40-years after her conviction on first-degree murder charges following the shooting death of her estranged husband, Scott Webber, in 1994.