Justice Department Settles Lawsuit Against the Berkeley County, S.C., Sheriff’s Office for Violating Detainees’ First Amendment Religious and Speech Rights
WASHINGTON– The Justice Department announced today that it has entered into a consent injunction with the Berkeley County, S.C., Sheriff’s Office (BCSO). The injunction resolves the United States’ claims against BCSO raised in Prison Legal News v. DeWitt. The United States intervened into the ongoing lawsuit on April 12, 2011.
The United States alleged that BCSO denied detainees access to books, magazines, newspapers or other expressive materials and denied them the right to practice their religion, in violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The agreement entered today protects the constitutional and federal statutory rights of detainees by ensuring that they have appropriate access to religious materials and reading materials, access that Berkeley County Detention Center (BCDC) had previously denied. The court will retain oversight over the agreement to ensure that this access is upheld.
“The rights to practice one’s faith and to be informed about matters of public interest are among our most cherished freedoms,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice is committed to vigorously enforcing the First Amendment and RLUIPA to ensure that freedom of expression and religious liberty remain protected. Not only will this agreement uphold the Constitution, it will also promote the safety, security and good order of BCDC; assist in rehabilitating detainees; and ensure that the people of Berkeley County have confidence in the criminal justice system.”
“The rights guaranteed by the Constitution extend to all people in the United States,” said William N. Nettles, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina. “By protecting those rights – even for the incarcerated – we strengthen those rights for all.”
This civil action was filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara M. Bowens and Civil Rights Division Special Litigation Section Attorneys Timothy D. Mygatt, Michael J. Songer and Amin Aminfar.
RLUIPA, which protects the religious freedom of persons confined to institutions such as prisons, mental health facilities and state-run nursing homes, was enacted by both houses of Congress unanimously and signed into law on Sep. 22, 2000. The law also addresses religious discrimination in land use in response to concerns that places of worship, particularly those of religious and ethnic minorities, were frequently subjected to discrimination in zoning matters. In the 10 years since its passage, RLUIPA has helped secure the ability of thousands of individuals to practice their faiths freely and without discrimination.
More information on the Civil Rights Division’s efforts to combat religious discrimination may be found at www.justice.gov/crt .