A Minnesota correctional facility abruptly canceled a Christian rehabilitation program for teaching inmates about manhood and masculinity through a Biblical worldview.

Now volunteers with the program have filed a lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) for violating their First Amendment rights. 

The Upper Midwest Law Center (UMLC) and co-counsel True North Legal (TNL) filed a complaint challenging DOC officials for canceling the “Quest for Authentic Manhood” program at the Minnesota Correctional Facility – St. Cloud. 

According to UMLC, the program was “designed to instill principles of authentic manhood” according to the Bible and had “remarkable success.”

“More than a thousand inmates completed the program, reporting restored families, healed resentments, and transformative experiences,” UMLC explained. 

Anthony Schmitt and other volunteers had been running the program within the jail for the last 10 years. 

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But in July, Schmitt received an email from the Minnesota DOC Assistant Commissioner Jolene Rebertus announcing the cancellation of the program. 

She stated the program “directly conflicts with the diversity, equity, and inclusivity values of the DOC by defining manhood, or the study of masculinity, through a biblical lens of what a ‘real man looks like.'” 

She accused Quest of “discrimination, exclusivity, gender biases and stereotypes that not only contradict the DOC’s mission of providing transformational programming, but can be hurtful to participants, their families, and victims.” 

Schmitt argues the DOC’s characterization of his views are discriminatory. 

He adds that the program has had a positive impact on inmates and he simply believes what the Bible says about men and women and human sexuality. 

“I have seen countless powerful testimonies and tears shed over the last decade because of the tremendous positive impact this program has had on inmates’ lives. I was shocked and dismayed when the DOC suddenly canceled us, and I just want to be able to minister to these men, who so desperately need support and rehabilitation,” Schmitt said in a statement. 

The lawsuit filed by UMLC and TNL claims the cancellation of the “Quest for Authentic Manhood” program violated Schmitt’s constitutional rights.

It points to the June 2021 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Fulton v. Philadelphia. The high court unanimously ruled that the City of Philadelphia was wrong to reject Catholic Social Services because the group said it wouldn’t violate its religious beliefs about sexuality.

As CBN News reported, the city had limited ties with the Catholic agency after it declined to place children with same-sex couples.

UMLC and TNL argue that Commissioner Rebertus’ actions were not neutral, but directly targeted Schmitt’s and the inmates’ religious beliefs. 

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the DOC’s actions violated Schmitt’s rights under the federal and Minnesota constitutions and it demands the program be reinstated. 

“DOC officials canceled Anthony Schmitt’s ‘Quest for Authentic Manhood’ program at the St. Cloud correctional facility because, as they said themselves, it is based on biblical Christianity and does not follow the State’s particular DEI religion,” said UMLC Senior Counsel James Dickey. 

“Both the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the Constitution forbid this. We are committed to ensuring that Anthony Schmitt can continue to make a positive impact on the lives of those seeking rehabilitation,” he continued. 

The Minnesota DOC told CBN News it cannot comment on pending litigation.



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