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Groups demand that jail stop censoring religion

Charlie Butts - OneNewsNow - 7/11/2009 4:15:00 AM

Civil and religious rights organizations are demanding that a Virginia jail stop removing Bible passages and other religious material from letters written to inmates.

Anna Williams, whose son was detained at the Rappahannock County Regional Jail, says officials cut out entire sections of letters she sent to her son that contained Bible verses or religious material. She says the jail cited prohibitions on Internet material and religious material sent from home.

John Whitehead, founder of The Rutherford Institute, represents Williams. His organization is challenging censorship of the mail.

"She's a devout Christian, and her son's in jail there and she's been trying to send him letters with Bible passages and whatever -- and the jail has actually been going through snipping out portions of letters," the attorney explains. "[S]ome of the letters are full of Bible verses, so what her son is getting is absolutely at the end of the letter where she says goodbye, I love you, and those kinds of things."

According to Whitehead, the situation is not an isolated case.

"Various Christian organizations are trying to give Bibles to prisoners...and prisons and local jails are actually prohibiting [that], saying such materials could be dangerous -- and they're actually stopping them," he laments. "So this is a nationwide thing that we're seeing, and [it's] one reason why we're trying to get involved in this case and stop it and nip it in the bud."

Whitehead tells OneNewsNow that courts have ruled there must be a compelling reason for censoring inmate mail -- and Bible verses, he says, hardly represent a compelling reason.

Prison Fellowship, the ACLU, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and other groups sent a letter to Rappahannock Regional Jail Superintendent Joseph Higgs, Jr., calling the policy illegal. Higgs issued a statement saying the groups' letter prompted him to launch an internal investigation.