ACLU Seeks To End Censorship Of Religious Material

It has become common for the many on the right to attack the American Civil Liberties Union and to mistake liberal support for freedom of religion as somehow being anti-religion. Here is a case which contradicts the conservative meme as the ACLU has protested censorship of biblical passages. From their press release:

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 Higgs, 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:

Additional information about the ACLU National Prison Project is available online at:

Additional information about the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief at:


  1. 1
    Lee Stranahan says:

    ACLU defends religion (via Liberal Values) – the right does love to misrepresent the ACLU, too

  2. 2
    stranahan says:

    ACLU defends religion (via Liberal Values) – the right does love to misrepresent the ACLU, too

  3. 3
    avivagabriel says:

    RT @Stranahan ACLU defends religion (via Liberal Values) – the right does love to misrepresent the ACLU…

  4. 4
    avivagabriel says:

    RT @Stranahan ACLU defends religion (via Liberal Values) – the right does love to misrepresent the ACLU…

  5. 5
    Eclectic Radical says:

    The problem the right wing has with the ACLU is not that it doesn’t protect their rights, if push comes to shove many people on the right will admit that it does. Their problem is that it protects everyone else’s rights too. The religious right is pushing a sort of ‘dark mirror’ political correctness where rather than attempting to claim EVERYONE has the right not to be offended as far too many on the left sometimes do, they and ONLY they have the right not to be offended while simultaneously enjoying the full and exclusive right to free expression regardless of who IS offended.
    I don’t care much for PC, and attempt not to practice it, but the right wing alternative is much worse.
    Some of the most anti-ACLU right wingers will probably take full advantage of ACLU support to get their way and then go back to slamming the ACLU the next day.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    I wonder if anyone other than people on the right have published or posted any good information on PC? People on the right frequently raise this to claim that liberals (who generally, but not always are far superior to the right in supporting civil liberties in recent years) oppose freedom of speech.

    When looking at specific examples I sometimes find, as with some conservatives whining about the “War on Christmas,” that their claims simply do not hold up. In other cases I find that they do have something valid to complain about, but it is far from clear how much support there is among liberals for matters related to PC. In such cases I might find that some liberals are supporting something that the right (and I) disagree with, but that many other liberals are often in opposition. Often I’ve found that it was other liberals who were most active in opposition also.

    Clearly some liberals support PC (which still generally does not restrict freedom of expression to the degree often supported by many on the right). Many liberals also oppose such beliefs. I wonder if there is any data which would give a  ballpark idea as to percentage of liberals which are for or against.

    This comes back to the problems with our political labels, especially when we try to lump a number of views into a very small number of labels. A wide variety of people can be lumped under conservative or liberal beliefs.  Sure there are some liberals who support PC efforts which do restrict speech. There are also some conservatives who support burning crosses and wearing sheets. Neither can accurately be used to define conservatism or liberalism.

  7. 7
    Jim Z. says:

    One more example of why people ought to join and support the ACLU.

  8. 8
    Nance Confer says:

    I wonder how much Williams wanted Mom’s letters consisting of pages of Bible quotes.
    Was it Mom who complained or the son?


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