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Appeals Court Denies Religious Program Challenge

BY JACK ELLIOTT JR.
Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. — A former inmate at a privately run Mississippi prison had no constitutional right to be provided with Catholic-oriented television programming, a federal appeals court has ruled.

Raymond Gutierrez, a California inmate who had been housed at the Corrections Corporation of America prison in Tallahatchie County, Miss., had sued the prison management company in January 2013. A federal judge in Oxford, Miss., threw out his lawsuit in April of that year.

Gutierrez, who has since been released from prison, argued in his appeal that the prison’s cable television service provided access to Protestant networks but not Catholic programming. He argued the facility’s refusal to provide Catholic programming denied him equal protection rights.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said this past week that Gutierrez failed to show the prison’s decision was discriminatory.

Gutierrez wanted the court to require the prison management company to provide access to the Eternal Television World Network, a Catholic network, at all its facilities.

The company argued it provided the Trinity Broadcasting Network, which it described as non-denominational channel with programming for difference religions. Gutierrez argued the channel is Protestant-oriented.

U.S. District Judge Michael P. Mills in Oxford, Miss., said there is no constitutional right to watch television so Gutierrez was not denied any rights.

Gutierrez “has not alleged that he has been denied ability to practice his Catholic faith, and he has not alleged that he has been denied access to the non-denominational religious programming available,” Mills wrote.

“He has not demonstrated that the decision not to add Catholic religious television programming was intentionally discriminatory.”

Mills said the prison could not be expected to add specific religious channels for each faith represented in the prison.

“The court finds that its restriction on religious-specific programming is rationally related to its interest containing programming costs,” he said.

The 5th Circuit panel said the court record doesn’t show how much Catholic programming Trinity provides but it agreed with Mills that it wasn’t “feasible to provide each religious denomination with a specific television channel.”

Moreover, Gutierrez has made no allegation suggesting that Catholic prisoners are not able to attend Mass or engage in the sacraments, study the Bible and other teachings, or otherwise exercise their right to practice their religion.