Feb 18, 2020

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is demanding that several county jails in Pennsylvania end religious discrimination against Muslim prisoners whose access to religious texts and other religious items is restricted due to the excessive price the jails charge for them.

At least six county jail commissaries have been identified as selling Qurans and other Muslim religious items such as prayer rugs and prayer beads at an exorbitantly high cost – especially in comparison with comparable Christian items – when much less expensive or even donated items could be made available to people who are incarcerated. As reported by the PA Post and PennLive:

  • The County of Adams Adult Correctional Facility sells Qurans for $21.20 – nearly three times the cost of Bibles, at $7.95
  • The Wyoming County Correctional Facility sells Qurans for $27.95 – more than double the cost of Bibles, at $11.50.  
  • Prisoners at the Columbia County Prison can get Bibles for free, but must pay $20 for a Quran.

Americans United warned jail officials that it is unconstitutional, as well as a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), to prevent people who are incarcerated from practicing their faith, or to favor members of some religions by giving them privileged access to religious items.

“Our country promises religious freedom for everyone, including people who are incarcerated. That means jails and prisons must provide equal opportunities for all prisoners to practice their faith,” said Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director at Americans United. “Some prisoners draw strength and comfort from religious texts or rituals, and Pennsylvania’s jails must make a reasonable effort to ensure that incarcerated people have the ability to practice the faith of their choice.”

Americans United identified six Pennsylvania counties whose jails are limiting prisoners’ access to Muslim religious materials: Adams, Bucks, Columbia, Lycoming, Mercer and Wyoming. AU requested that the jails end the price disparity by seeking alternate vendors or by taking other steps to provide religious materials at a reasonable price that is equitable across faiths.

A copy of the letter is available here.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.