ACLU Sues S.C. Jail Over Bible-Only Policy

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing a South Carolina jail over a policy that prohibits inmates from having any reading materials other than the Bible.

The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking to overturn the policy on behalf of Prison Legal News, a monthly journal on prison law. Since 2008, the magazine's publishers have tried to send magazines, letters and self-help books to inmates at the Berkeley County Detention Center in Moncks Corner, about 100 miles southeast of Columbia. Some were sent back, and in July, a jail official wrote an e-mail to the publishers referencing the jail's policy.

"Our inmates are only allowed to receive soft back bibles in the mail directly from the publisher," First Sgt. K. Habersham noted in the e-mail. "They are not allowed to have magazines, newspapers, or any other type of books."

ACLU staff attorney David Shapiro said the policy effectively bans prisoners from all books and violates a number of the magazine's and inmates' constitutional rights.

"The first [right it violates] is the right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment, which carries with it the right to receive materials and read," he said, adding that the policy also discriminates on the basis of religion.

The jail said Wednesday that it doesn't have a library and confirmed the only reading material its roughly 450 inmates are allowed to have are paperback Bibles. A spokesman for Berkeley County Sheriff Wayne DeWitt said the sheriff had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment.

In addition to unspecified punitive damages, the lawsuit asks a federal judge to order the Bible-only policy halted and to let a jury hear the case.

Sea Stachura contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.