(CN) – A South Carolina jail was hit with a lawsuit Wednesday that challenged its practice of barring inmates from receiving in the mail any form of literature but the Bible. Prison Legal News claims its constitutional right to free speech is being trampled by the Berkeley County jail’s practice of “censoring and failing to deliver multiple copies of journals and books sent to detainees.”
The jail’s policy to “prevent every newspaper, magazine and book – except the Bible – from entering the detention center” was “motivated by evil motive or intent [and] involved reckless or callous indifference to the federally protected rights of plaintiffs,” according to the 17-page complaint in Charleston, S.C., Federal Court.
Vermont-based Prison Legal News says that since 2008, many of its magazines, letters and self-help books about prison life sent to inmates were returned undeliverable.
The lawsuit says a jail sergeant sent the publication an e-mail in July explaining the policy: “Our inmates are only allowed to receive soft back [B]ibles in the mail directly from the publisher. They are not allowed to have magazines, newspapers, or any other type of books.”
“Without any notice to senders, the detention center routinely refuses to deliver these expressive works to detainees,” the lawsuit states.
Along with unspecified damages, the publication seeks an order declaring as unconstitutional the jail’s ban on publications other than the Bible.
Named as defendants are Berkeley County Sheriff H. Wayne Dewitt; Capt. Cliff McElvogue and Lt. Tony Riley.
The lawsuit was filed by Susan Dunn, a staff attorney with the South Carolina National Office of the American Civil Liberties Union.