Prisoner Sues Oregon County Over Forced Religion

An Oregon man has filed a federal lawsuit claiming his civil rights were violated when required to live at a place with daily religious services following his release from prison.

Jason Dwain Davies, 32, was sentenced in 2005 after pleading guilty to identity theft, drug possession and resisting arrest. According to his lawsuit, Lane County parole officers required him to live at the Eugene Mission once he got out in October 2006. The mission provides food and beds to homeless people, but makes them attend daily gospel services.

The lawsuit contends Lane County violated the U.S. Constitution's separation of church and state clause by requiring Davies to live in a fundamentally religious facility while under supervision of parole and probation officers. He seeks unspecified monetary damages and an injunction barring the county from imposing the same requirement on others.

Attorney Joseph Connelly said his client seeks money because he was jailed a total of 319 days between December 2006 and March 2008 for refusing to stay at the mission on various occasions.

Davies is back in prison following a June 28 conviction on charges of identity theft and methamphetamine possession, The Register-Guard newspaper reported.

Joan Copperwheat, the county's director of parole and probation services, said the department can't order someone to live at the Eugene Mission, but can require them to have a department-approved residence. The only other free living spaces, she said, are places that are often full and have waiting lists.

Copperwheat said she could not recall a similar lawsuit regarding the mission. But she said the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in 2007 that parolees cannot be required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as a condition of their release because the organization contains a religious component