Constitutional Law

That Bible Would Have Gone Through His Heart If It Weren't for That X-Acto Knife

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Last week the ACLU and several other groups that defend religious freedom sent a letter (PDF) to Superintendent Joseph Higgs of Rappahannock Regional Jail in Stafford, Virginia, complaining about censorship that had reduced an inmate's letters from his mother to "something resembling Swiss cheese" by excising biblical quotations:

Anna Williams…a devout Christian, wanted to support her son spiritually during his confinement at the Jail by sending him religious language, including passages from the Bible.

Rather than delivering these letters to Ms. Williams' son, the Jail expurgated the religious material, citing variously as the reason for censorship "Internet Pages" and "Religious Material from Home."…Using scissors or a hobby knife, Jail officials literally cut the religious portions out of Ms. Williams' letters and delivered only the snippets that did not quote the Bible….All Ms. Williams' son received of a three-page letter was the salutation, the first paragraph of the letter, and the closing, "Love, Mom."…

The Jail also refused to deliver a letter entitled Coping With Loneliness, a Christian guide that Ms. Williams hoped would help her son confront his isolation at the Jail.

It is astonishing that such censorship of the Bible and other religious material could occur in an American jail in the Twenty-First Century.

The ACLU letter notes that "jails may limit detainees' right to free speech and free exercise [of religion] only through restrictions 'reasonably related to legitimate penological interests,' such as security." It warns Higgs that his jail's censorship policy violates the First Amendment rights of both Ms. Williams and her son as well as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which says rules that impose a substantial burden on a prisoner's religious freedom are permitted only when they are the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest. The Washington Post reports that Higgs "said that he has launched an internal investigation after receiving calls from the media but that he could not comment while the investigation is being conducted."

John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, which is representing Anna Williams, tells OneNewsNow such illegal censorship is not limited to this particular jail:

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‚ÄĒand they're actually stopping them. 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.

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  1. The other day I got an email forward from a megachurch-attending friend about how the ACLU is suing to remove cross-shaped headstones from military cemeteries. Somehow I doubt that same friend will be forwarding any news stories about this development.

  2. Heh… “penological.”

  3. I am so sick of the ACLU trying to take God out of everything.

    Wait, what?

  4. You can’t give inmates bibles, you fools! They will hollow them out to keep rock hammers hidden. Then in 19 or so years, the inmate would tunnel out and escape through a sewage line while a picture of Rita Hayworth obscures the escape route.

  5. Wow, the ACLU focusing on a Free Exercise case. That’s different.

  6. This is just beyond fucking stupid.*

    Somebody ask me again why I hold government in such contempt?

    I’ve got $100 that says nobody loses their job for this egregious behavior. Any takers? Anyone want to defend the ignoramus who made the decision’s right to continued employment by the taxpayer?

    * Hypertarded? Stupillissimo?

  7. Perhaps its time for Mr. Higgs to be the beneficiary of a concerned citizen’s exercise of his second amendment rights.

  8. Hmm. I would’ve thought they wanted the convicts to find Jeebus, but I guess not.

  9. J sub D, the proper term is megaidiotic, IIRC.

  10. I am actually shocked that the ACLU is on the guys side here. I would’ve expected rationalizations.

  11. I blame Chuck Colson for this.

  12. So, has the inevitable chain email about this, complete with an animated American flag GIF, begun circulating yet?

  13. Hmm. I would’ve thought they wanted the convicts to find Jeebus, but I guess not.

    T, I thought the same thing, and then I realized that the prisons aren’t about rehabilitation, they’re about punishment. If you look at it that way, this makes perfect sense.

  14. The jailer saw the lines about the blood’s protection and Jesus escaping the crypts alive and decided it was gang related?

  15. Damn you brotherben! I was thinking something along those lines but not the blood part.

  16. I knew this practice sounded familiar. Best excerpt I could find.

    http://grammar.about.com/od/shortpassagesforanalysis/a/hellercatch22.htm

  17. then I realized that the prisons aren’t about rehabilitation, they’re about punishment. If you look at it that way, this makes perfect sense.

    OTOH, reading religious tracts sounds pretty punishing to me, but to each their own.

  18. OTOH, reading religious tracts sounds pretty punishing to me, but to each their own.

    Nah, Chick Tracts and the like are HILARIOUS.

  19. Speak for yourself, Dagny. I enjoy reading all about fire, brimstone, genocide, golden calfs, plagues, etc. It gets me pumped before my workout.

  20. Wow! We have come full circle!

    Do you know *why* they call them penitentiaries?

    The idea was that by locking a felon up in a room alone with a bible, they would be taught the error of their ways and learn to be penitent!

    This was widely considered an advancement over punishments such as whipping, amputations, branding, etc.

    Now it’s morphed into a boarding school teaching people how to commit violent crime. ūüėČ

    This is actually quite funny.

  21. First let me credit the absolute best title for any entry here ever. Jacob, was that yours?

    Then let me explain my previous comment: Somebody displeased with what happened to Chuck Colson wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

  22. See, the diff here is that it’s a prison, not a school. ACLU apparently believes prisoners have more rights than high school kids to freely practice their religion.

  23. I wonder if they have a muslim or two in the jail and the christian is the popular recipient of an across the board CYA rule?

  24. OTOH, reading religious tracts sounds pretty punishing to me, but to each their own.

    Until you’ve read random pages from Dianetics, you don’t know what punishment is.

  25. Xeones, I am so happy I Googled that, despite my initial guess that “Chick tracts” were part of some kind of porn-as-religion movement.

  26. See, the diff here is that it’s a prison, not a school. ACLU apparently believes prisoners have more rights than high school kids to freely practice their religion.

    So high schools are censoring letters to students to remove any mention of the Bible and the ACLU is OK with that? Students are forbidden from possessing a Bible on school property and the ACLU supports this policy? I am pretty sure the above are both false, so what the fuck is your point?

  27. T, I thought the same thing, and then I realized that the prisons aren’t about rehabilitation, they’re about punishment. If you look at it that way, this makes perfect sense.

    Oh. Silly me. I was thinking logically again, always a mistake when dealing with the .gov.

  28. despite my initial guess that “Chick tracts” were part of some kind of porn-as-religion movement.

    That exists too.

    don’t worry – safe for work wikipedia entry…

  29. Episiarch: You’ve hit on a brilliant social experiment: Dianetics for prisoners. We pool money, buy as many copies as we can and donate them to prisons, and see what happens.

  30. PORN AS RELIGION? ISN’T THAT THE WHOLE POINT OF NUNS?

  31. Dianetics for prisoners. We pool money, buy as many copies as we can and donate them to prisons, and see what happens.

    Prisoners don’t have money to pay for their e-meter sessions. Otherwise, a fascinating idea. Or maybe a terrifying one.

  32. DAMN YOUR CLUMSY FINGERS, VIKING MINION! RETYPE THE URKOBOLD’S LINK PROPERLY, OR YOUR TAINT WILL BE IMPERILED YET AGAIN!

    N-N-N-UNS.

  33. We pool money, buy as many copies as we can and donate them to prisons, and see what happens.

    You can find copies at any thrift store for, like, a quarter.

  34. Here’s how to evade this, if you’re the prison authorities who did this:

    Claim that you believed that the prisoner was communicating in cypher with associates outside the prison using a book code.

    You have to snip out bible passages because decoded they could spell, “Kill the warden on Tuesday” or something.

  35. I am sure you can find as many copies of Scientology books as you want for free without too much effort. Scientologists apparently often donate their books to libraries. A friend of mine recently showed up with a pile of them he got at his local library for free (I don’t think they ever even considered shelving them) so we could use them for target practice.

  36. PORN AS RELIGION? ISN’T THAT THE WHOLE POINT OF NUNS?

    And catholic schoolgirls.

  37. ooh, are the e-meter reading things heavily protected by copyright/trademark/patent? If not, you could become an “expert” at it and donate your time to the prisoners.

  38. How much do you want to bet that the reason prison management offers for the exising of Biblical passages is the “fear’ that quotes from the Bible will “offend” or “create a hostile prison environment” fo Muslim inmates?

  39. The ACLU strikes again! Those godless, commie heathens!–oh wait… they’re defending people’s religious freedoms… I’m sure all my right-wing friends will be talking about this story… yeah…

    I, for one, fully support the right of inmates to have Bibles… where else are they going to stash their drugs and their shivs, etc?

  40. Hey, they’re just trying to keep all of these criminal undesirable types out of Heaven.

  41. ‘The ACLU letter . . . warns Higgs that his jail’s censorship policy violates . . . the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which says rules that impose a substantial burden on a prisoner’s religious freedom are permitted only when they are the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest.’

    To put it in H&R commenter terms, the ALCU is invoking a statute which gives special protection to people simply because they believe in some kind of Sky Fairy.

    Has the ACLU gone fundamentalist?

  42. I guess what surprised me about this story was that the warden could read well enough to pick out the Bible passages.

  43. It could be the prisons have adopted the practice in an attempt to limit the recruiting/creating of Islamic extremists from the inmate population, but without explicitly saying so.

  44. No, I get it. Someone in the prison administration heard that atheists were vastly underrepresented in the prison population, and decided to promote diversity.

  45. You could make a pretty good argument that immersing criminals in superstitious nonsense isn’t likely to solve any problems.

    Then again, given the state of our penal system, you could make an even better argument that putting anyone into the prison system of today is simply going to infuriate them, and presuming they survive it, likely to aim them straight at those they have decided bear the responsibility for putting them in there. Given that the whole Christian superstition is about blaming someone else for your own problems (it’s how gawd wants it to be), the bible fits right in.

    And of course, for the unfortunates who are unfairly convicted, our prison system is *really* an incubator for aimed missiles on exit. Even if they never act, they know each and every day how corrupt and dysfunctional the system is and it will affect every act for the rest of their lives.

  46. ‘Given that the whole Christian superstition is about blaming someone else for your own problems (it’s how gawd wants it to be)’

    I thought the problem with the Christian superstition was that it encouraged people to feel guilt and shame for their behavior, when everyone knows that free will is an illusion and anyway it’s society’s fault.

  47. I thought the problem with the Christian superstition was that it encouraged people to feel guilt and shame for their behavior, when everyone knows that free will is an illusion and anyway it’s society’s fault.

    Mel, buddy, it’s you, isn’t it?

  48. ‘Mel, buddy, it’s you, isn’t it?’

    Is the Pope Catholic?

  49. An explanation of the above joke. You see, Gibson, Sr. wrote a book entitled “Is the Pope Catholic,” and the answer was “no.”

  50. I thought the problem with the Christian superstition was that it encouraged people to feel guilt and shame for their behavior

    Are you kidding? Have you even ever met a Christian? They lay all that stuff on their savior-on-a-stick and walk away “cleansed.” Well, and then there are the Catholics, who sell indulgences, that’s a little more in the commercial spirit… but it’s the same thing in the end. And you know which end I mean.

  51. Ben,

    You certainly set an example of humility which Christians would be crazy not to follow.

    As for the sale of indulgences, you may have heard of a little thing called the Council of Trent, which issued a decree on indulgences in 1563 – ‘desirous that the abuses which have crept therein, and by occasion of which this honourable name of Indulgences is blasphemed by heretics, be amended and corrected, It ordains generally by this decree, that all evil gains for the obtaining thereof,–whence a most prolific cause of abuses amongst the Christian people has been derived,–be wholly abolished.’ see

    http://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct25.html

  52. You all are so full of crap! Oh God forbid they not get there religious materials! Whatever will they do? Well guess what…Those idiots in jail are nothing but hypocrites…let me go to church service then come back and curse the guard. I am a christian even though I just murdered my neighbor. Drink in public, reckless driving things like that are mistakes. Repeat offenders, murderers and rapist are not mistakes they are with malice intent. Ya’ll wanna bash the guards that deal with these criminals everyday? Wow! Aren’t you amazing! Not really…just ridiculous! God Bless you really…you need it!

  53. God bless you all..I belong to the Prison Ministry “Breaking Strenght”. The members of our Ministry ar natural from Panama City, Central America, some of them are ex-convict and todady by the Grace of God are good citizen and serve to God talking and preaching the word of God to all nation…Yes to all nation. Our member travel around the word, wherever we recive an invitation. Until now we visit prisons on Honduras, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Panama and in two month we are going to Colombia. I write this line to touch your hard and request if you feel to support our Ministry you can contact me to my e-mail or call me (507)60732975 We recive donation in species like (BIblie, tin food, personal hygiene articles) or Bank Trasfer (Contact me to more info)

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