By Dennis Lynd
On March 1, 1975, I began working with the congregation that meets in Pontiac, Illinois. The congregation here is small with a Sunday morning attendance of about 45 people. There is little to distinguish Pontiac as a community with the exception that it is the county-seat of Livingston County and the location of one of the state’s maximum security prisons.
On November 7, 1975, I entered the prison for the first time with the hopes of taking the gospel of Christ to some of the inmates. On that occasion I met a number of residents who were interested in spiritual matters. There was one inmate that I would particularly like to bring to your attention. Edmund Lopes No. 15286 was the head of the board-of-deacons for the Pontiac Bible Church in the Correctional Center at the time I entered the prison. Edmund had a great amount of influence and respect among the other inmates having worked with them for a number of years in spiritual matters.
Through the close of 1975 and the first two months of 1976, Edmund and I corresponded and I would visit with a group of men on the first of every month. Towards the end of March, Edmund and I had our first personal visit. On that occasion Edmund inquired concerning the Scriptural teaching on baptism. Prior to this time the Chaplain had substituted sprinkling for immersion. After studying the Scriptures together, Edmund realized the necessity of immersion for the remission of sins and expressed a desire to be baptized into Christ.
Leaving our visit, Edmund joined a discussion that was under way between the board-of-deacons and Chaplain Reynolds. They were discussing the legitimacy of sprinkling for baptism. Armed with passages of Scripture, Edmund showed the error of the course they had previously pursued and asked to be allowed to be immersed. Edmund and I were both told that the prison did not have the facilities for baptism even though we both knew that on at least two occasions the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been allowed to use the whirlpool in the prison hospital for this very purpose.
After the board-of-deacons decision to no longer use sprinkling for baptism, the Chaplain did it at least once more. As a result of his action, Edmund and four other members of the six-man board-of-deacons left the Protestant Chaplain’s program.
On April 1, amid religious confusion and departures from the Protestant Chaplain’s Program, Edmund was removed from the regular prison population and placed in segregation which is the closest thing our prisons have to solitary confinement. Edmund’s ticket, his appearance before the prison court-line, and his placement in segregation were all done in a most irregular manner. I visited Edmund on April 1 and he requested that I get an outside lawyer to look into the matter.
On April 2, I went to the prison accompanied by a local lawyer. Prison officials would not allow the lawyer to enter the prison to look into the matter.
Finally, after an investigation was held by the state’s Administrator of Chaplaincy Services, Robert Horn, Edmund was allowed to be immersed on May 7, 1976. Five days later, amid great fanfare and publicity, a baptistry was brought into the prison and Chaplain Reynolds immersed 15 inmates and the newspapers raved that “the institution at Pontiac has been a forerunner in recognizing the religious freedoms of prisoners” (Bloomington Pantagraph, 5/13/76). At that time the spokesman for the Department of Corrections admitted that there had been a “flood” of requests for the religious rite and that there “has been a swelling of fundamental Christianity inside prison walls recently-fundamentalism which holds that a person is not properly baptized unless he has been totally immersed in water” (Ibid.).
Over the past two years Edmund and I have tried to work through channels to arrange a Bible class and worship service within the prison here. All of our efforts have been to no avail. Finally, last November, Edmund filed suit against Governor Thompson and the Department of Corrections on the grounds that he was being denied the freedom to exercise his religion.
In January, 1978, I made a trip to Houston, Texas to discuss with Brother Roy Cogdill the merit of the case. Brother Cogdill saw merit in the case and suggested that we contact Brother Elliott Ozment to help us with the case. Brother Ozment is presently on the Tennessee State Legislature and his law firm has agreed to represent us in court. Brother Ozment will be challenging the chaplain system on the basis that it is a union of church and state that violates the Constitution of the United States. The Attorney General of Illinois is representing the defendants and it is probable that the case will go to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Crawford Ozment law firm expect that their commitment will involve $15,000 worth of time. This they are donating. We are presently trying to raise $5,000 to cover the out-of-pocket expense (travel, motels, meals, etc.). This money needs to be raised before these men become our attorneys-of-record. Because of the pressure from the state’s lawyers, there is a need for these men to become our attorney’s-of-record sometime in May, 1978.
We would encourage you to consider helping us in this good work. We are seeking the support of individuals and not churches. Thank you for your consideration. If you are able to help in this matter, make checks payable to Lopes-Lynd Fund and mail them to Allen Roth, 802 N. Mill, Pontiac, IL 61764.
Truth Magazine XXII: 26, p. 423
June 29, 1978