December 2018 Church & State - December 2018

Groups Sue Mississippi Jail Over Literature Policy

  Rob Boston

Two organizations are suing officials in a Mississippi county asserting that inmates in the local jail are denied any reading material except the Bible.

The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) and Mississippi Center for Justice are suing Forrest County Sheriff Billy McGee and staff at the jail. The lawsuit contends that inmates are “allowed to read only the Bible and sometimes other Christian publications.”

“We want to see this policy change so that prisoners – people who are in there, people who are awaiting trial, people who are waiting for the disposition of their cases – can read books and other publications beyond the Bible and other Christian publications, which apparently is the only thing the prisoners are allowed to read there in the jail,” attorney Rob McDuff, who is representing HRDC, told the Hattiesburg American.

The group reported that it mailed 77 pieces of literature to inmates earlier this year, including books and newsletters, and all of it was returned.

“We’ve unfortunately been dealing with these publication bans for a long time,” Paul Wright, HRDC executive director, said. “Whether prisoners have been convicted or if they are awaiting trial, and are therefore innocent until proven guilty, limiting their reading options to religious materials is an egregious abuse of government power that has no legitimate purpose.” (Human Rights Defense Center v. Forrest County)

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The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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