ACLU Seeks End to Censorship of Religious Material by Virginia Jail

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Will Matthews, (212) 549-2582 or 2666; media@aclu.org

ACLU Seeks End to Censorship of Religious Material by Virginia Jail

Ban of Biblical Passages and Other Material Unconstitutional

STAFFORD, Va. - The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Virginia today
demanded that officials at the Rappahannock Regional Jail immediately
end their illegal practice of censoring religious material sent to
detainees.

In a letter sent today to the jail's
superintendent, Joseph Riggs, Jr., the ACLU asks for jail officials to
guarantee in writing that the jail will no longer censor biblical
passages from letters written to detainees and to revise the jail's
written inmate mail policy to state that letters will not be censored
simply because they contain religious material. 

"It is nothing short of stunning
that a jail would think it okay to censor the Bible and other religious
material for no reason other than its religious nature," said David
Shapiro, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. "Such
censorship violates both the rights of detainees to practice religion
freely and the free speech rights of those wanting to communicate with
detainees."

The letter was prompted by a
complaint brought to the ACLU by Anna Williams, a devout Christian
whose son was detained at Rappahannock beginning in June of 2008 until
his transfer earlier this year. Williams wanted to send her son
religious material, including passages from the Bible, to support him
spiritually during his confinement. But rather than deliver Williams'
letters to her son in full, jail officials removed any and all
religious material, destroying the religious messages Williams sought
to convey to her son. For example, after jail officials excised
biblical passages, a three-page letter sent by Williams to her son was
reduced to nothing more than the salutation, the first paragraph of the
letter and the closing, "Love, Mom."

Jail officials banned additional
material from other letters Williams attempted to send her son,
including passages from the Book of Proverbs, the Book of James, the
Book of Matthew and an article that contained Christian perspectives on
confronting isolation while in jail. Jail officials have variously
cited prohibitions on "Internet pages" and "religious material sent
from home" as reasons for the censorship.

"It is essential that jail officials
abide by the law and the requirements of the U.S. Constitution," said
Daniel Mach, Director of Litigation for the ACLU Program on Freedom of
Religion and Belief. "People do not lose their right to religious
worship simply because they are incarcerated."

The ACLU's letter also asks jail
officials to revise the jail's inmate mail policy to state that letters
will not be censored merely because they contain material printed from
the Internet or copied from the Internet and inserted into a letter
using a word processor's "cut and paste" feature.

"Arbitrarily banning religious
material is in direct odds with our nation's constitutional values,"
said Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director for the ACLU of Virginia.
"Americans are free to practice the religion of their choice, or no
religion at all, without interference from any government official."

Other signatories to the ACLU's
letter are the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, the
Rutherford Institute, Prison Fellowship, the Friends Committee on
National Legislation and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

A copy of the ACLU's letter is available online at: www.aclu.org/prison/restrict/40257res20090709.html

Additional information about the ACLU National Prison Project is available online at: www.aclu.org/prison

Additional information about the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief at: www.aclu.org/religion

Additional information about the ACLU of Virginia is available online at: www.acluva.org

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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