State to pay $80K to settle lawsuit over religious teaching in prison inmate program

TRICOR, the state program providing jobs for prison inmates, will pay $80,994 to settle a federal court lawsuit that contended inappropriate religious teaching was included in instructional materials, reports WKRN TV.

Employee Joseph Baker sued TRICOR, claiming he was forced to teach religious principles to inmates for the program based on the motivational book by author Michael Burt. A review of the book, “This Ain’t No Practice Life,” contains several referenced to God or the Creator.

While TRICOR’s attorney argued in court that the program contained no religious messages, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger earlier expressed doubt, writing that “the court cannot overlook the improper religious aspects that are present throughout the coaching program.”

Gayle Jordan, an attorney who is a member of the organization “Recovery from Religion,” consulted on the case and told the News 4 I-Team in April that the program sent a clear message.

“That’s the government endorsing, and being excessively entangled, in a religion,” Jordan said.

In the settlement agreement, signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, Baker will receive $45,948.15 and his attorney could receive up to $35,000 in fees. (Text of the document is HERE.)

Note: Attorney Jordan is seeking the Democratic nomination in state Senate District 14, where former Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, resigned to take a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Campaign website is HERE.

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