Chaplain removed for bringing wine into prison

It happened in South Carolina:

For a quarter century, Monsignor Ed Lofton has served as one of 86 volunteer chaplains at the Charleston County jail. Bringing calm to inmates and jailers alike is considered essential to his mission.

But carrying wine into a facility where alcohol is labeled as contraband hasn’t come without controversy. He has fought and won that battle before.

For 15 years, he has consumed 1 ounce of sacramental wine during Mass without incident. Inmates partake only in the bread.

But this week he lost a fight.

Chief Deputy Mitch Lucas, the jail’s administrator, has told Lofton to replace the wine — brought to the jail in a TSA-approved container designed for holy water — with grape juice.

He booted the chaplain Tuesday after he refused to do so.

Lucas said the move was necessary because Lofton had threatened to sue on the basis of a civil-rights violation. He didn’t want the chaplain to continue visiting the jail and “gathering evidence” for a court claim, Lucas said.

The action has denied inmates a First Amendment right and a religious rite that’s “at the heart of what the Catholic Church is all about,” Lofton said. He added that he would ask for Lucas’ firing during a meeting today with Sheriff Al Cannon.

“They pull this on me after I’ve been doing this for years,” said Lofton, who leads St. Theresa the Little Flower Catholic Church in Summerville. “It’s pretty bad that I have to fight for something the Constitution allows. But this is religious freedom, and I’ll fight for it again.”

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