Yesterday, Americans United’s Legal Department sent letters to officials at six county jails in Pennsylvania concerning the ability of Muslim inmates to get copies of the Quran at a reasonable cost.
AU took action after the online news site PA Post reported that Qurans were being heavily marked up at the county jails’ commissaries. The cost disparity between Bibles and Qurans was striking. In Adams County, for example, the local jail sells Bibles for $7.95, but a Quran costs $21.20. In Columbia County, inmates can actually get a Bible for free – while a Quran costs $20.
Lest you think there’s something about the Quran that makes it more expensive, there’s not. Copies can be had through online booksellers for as little as $4.
Men and women who are incarcerated in prisons and jails obviously don’t enjoy the same amount of religious freedom as people living on the outside. Certain religious implements can be placed on restricted use or banned in correctional institutions if they present a security hazard. A heavy metal cross, for example, might be carried aloft during a religious service outside of prison. In a prison or jail, an item like that could become a weapon so inmates’ access to it might be curtailed.
But there have always been different rules for religious literature. It has more freely circulated behind bars. Many religious groups believe that exposure to religious literature can be a part of inmates’ rehabilitation efforts. At the very least, some inmates take solace from their ability to read and study religious texts.
As AU Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser noted yesterday in a media statement, “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.”
Correctional officials in Pennsylvania have an obligation to treat all religions equally. Right now, some of them are showing preference to the majority faith by charging three times more for a Quran than a Bible. This must stop. Americans United hopes our letter will resolve this issue.