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WASHINGTON (RNS) Bibles cannot be the only reading materials allowed in jail, the U.S. Department of Justice said in joining a lawsuit against a South Carolina detention center on Tuesday (April 12).

The original suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Prison Legal News last October, charged that the Berkeley County Detention Center’s policy of banning all books other than the Bible was unconstitutional.

“The county’s religious intolerance tramples our freedom of religion which is a cornerstone of the United States Constitution,” said William N. Nettles, the U.S. Attorney for South Carolina, in a statement Wednesday.

According to the suit, copies of Prison Legal News’ journal as well as other publications were thrown away or shipped back.

“The policy in place at the Berkeley County Detention Center is nothing short of censorship, and there is no justification for shutting detainees off from the outside world in such a draconian way,” said David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project.

Sandy Senn, an attorney for Sheriff Wayne DeWitt, told the Associated Press she wants to meet with Nettles to discuss the suit, and said inmates at the facility in Moncks Corner have been allowed to receive any number of soft-sided books since June 2009.

“We’ve let all sorts of material come in,” Senn told The AP.

– RICHARD YEAKLEY, Religion News Service

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