ACLU Sues a Jail That Only Let Inmates Read the Bible

Now a federal prosecutor is getting involved

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In South Carolina, prisoners at the Berkeley County Detention Center are only allowed to read paperback Bibles. They're not allowed to have "magazines, newspapers, or any other type of books," according to an e-mail sent from a first sergeant at the prison. As reported by The Guardian, the ACLU isn't happy about this. Last fall, they filed suit against the Detention Center, calling its Bibles-only policy "unconstitutional."

Now, the federal government is getting involved: U.S. attorney Bill Nettles is entering the lawsuit on behalf of the ACLU. Meanwhile, the Detention Center has tried to clarify its policy, saying it only bans reading material that depicts nudity (including "beachwear or underwear," according to the ACLU) or anything that uses staples. But the ACLU has challenged that set of rules too, saying it's an arbitrary policy the prison doesn't even follow. At the Berkeley County Detention Center, you can buy legal pads with staples.

The real irony here is that just two years ago, the ACLU was fighting another jail--this one in Virginia--that was trying to stop its inmates from reading Bible passages. At Rappahannock Regional Jail, prison officials were apparently cutting Bible quotations out of letters sent to inmates by their friends and families. After the ACLU filed a complaint, the jail changed its policy; it remains to be seen whether the same thing will happen in South Carolina.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.