Ousted after demanding wine for Mass, Charleston County jail chaplain claims rights were violated

Ed Lofton

For 15 years, Monsignor Ed Lofton has consumed 1 ounce of sacramental wine during Mass at the Charleston County jail without incident.

But carrying alcohol for Communion into a facility where it is labeled as contraband hasn’t come without controversy. The volunteer chaplain has fought and won that battle before.

But this week he lost a fight. Chief Deputy Mitch Lucas, the jail’s administrator, has told Lofton to replace the wine 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 Thursday 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.”

Read more in tomorrow’s Post and Courier.

Andrew Knapp is editor of the quick response team, which covers crime, courts and breaking news. He previously worked as a reporter and copy editor at Florida Today, Newsday and Bangor (Maine) Daily News. He enjoys golf, weather and fatherhood.