Local News

Story published: 10-02-2012 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Inmate sues jail over Bible

By Karen Sells
Assistant Editor

A pretrial detainee in the Washington County Detention Center has filed a complaint in federal court alleging his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion has been denied.

In his Complaint for Violation of Civil Rights filed Aug. 13 in the United States District Court in Greeneville, Jeremiah Barwick requests two versions of the Bible, a copy of the Quran, the opportunity to worship weekly and see his pastor no matter where he is housed, appointment of legal counsel to represent the lawsuit filing, monetary compensation for libel and humiliation, and a move to a different housing location if the case is opened.

In addition to the complaint, Barwick submitted an Application to Proceed in District Court Without Prepaying Fees or Costs. The application indicates he has no income, no funds in checking or savings accounts, and a zero balance in his commissary account at the Detention Center.

The response from Chief U.S. District Judge Curtis L. Collier filed Aug. 15 directed the court clerk to file the case, but assessed Barwick the full $350 filing fee, which he will be allowed to pay in installments, when and if sufficient funds become available.

Barwick alleges he was deprived of his right to practice his religion by the seizure of his King James version of the Bible, based on his possession of a New International Version of the Bible. He claims he was told he could only have one Bible. Later, when he requested and was supplied with a copy of the Quran, his NIV Bible was seized for the same reason.

Barwick also asserts inmates in Unit 9, where he is housed, have the opportunity to participate in worship services only once a month, whereas inmates in the workhouse and B-Pod are allowed to attend weekly services.

After discovering he could not sue the jail itself as he originally filed the lawsuit, Barwick filed an amended lawsuit on Sept. 6, naming Washington County, the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, Maj. Brenda Downs and Lt. Linda Minthrone as defendants.

Collier dismissed the sheriff’s office as a non-suable entity, as well as Washington County and Downs, the latter two because the complaint contains no allegations against them.

Barwick was ordered to complete a service packet and provide specific contentions to show how Minthrone deprived him of a constitutional right, privilege or immunity.

According to the original complaint, Minthrone is the officer who brought the Quran to Barwick and said he was only allowed to have a Bible or a Quran, not both.

The completed packet was received by the U.S. District Court on Sept. 12, and Minthrone was issued a summons Sept. 17. She has 21 days to respond to the complaint.

Sheriff Ed Graybeal said he had no knowledge of Barwick’s complaint, and referred the Herald & Tribune to the county attorney.

As of last week, John Rambo said the county had not been served by the court.

“When we receive the papers, we will conduct an investigation,” he said.