Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Fed. prisons purge religious books not on approved list.
[Updated!] Here's a story of 9/11 overreach for you: Apparently the Justice Department's Bureau of Prisons decided back in 2004 that it needed to remove any books that might transform prisoners into militantly anti-American Muslims. Rather than come up with a list of radical books to ban, they hit instead on the even more misguided idea of setting up the "Standardized Chapel Library Project" — a list of "up to 150 book titles and 150 multimedia resources for each of 20 religions or religious categories — everything from Bahaism to Yoruba." As Laurie Goodstein reports in the New York Times:
Behind the walls of federal prisons nationwide, chaplains have been quietly carrying out a systematic purge of religious books and materials that were once available to prisoners in chapel libraries.
The chaplains were directed by the Bureau of Prisons to clear the shelves of any books, tapes, CDs and videos that are not on a list of approved resources. In some prisons, the chaplains have recently dismantled libraries that had thousands of texts collected over decades, bought by the prisons, or donated by churches and religious groups.
Although neither the Bureau of Prisons nor the Times will release the approved list, people who have seen it have noted some significant gaps:
In some cases, the lists indicate their authors' preferences. For example, more than 80 of the 120 titles on the list for Judaism are from the same Orthodox publishing house. A Catholic scholar and an evangelical Christian scholar who looked over some of the lists were baffled at the selections.
Timothy Larsen, who holds the Carolyn and Fred McManis Chair of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, an evangelical school, looked over lists for "Other Christian" and "General Spirituality."
"There are some well-chosen things in here," Professor Larsen said. "I'm particularly glad that Dietrich Bonhoeffer is there. If I was in prison I would want to read Dietrich Bonhoeffer." But he continued, "There's a lot about it that's weird." The lists "show a bias toward evangelical popularism and Calvinism," he said, and lacked materials from early church fathers, liberal theologians and major Protestant denominations.
An article in the New York Law Journal mentions a few more omissions:
[B]anned materials at Otisville include two fundamental Jewish works — Maimonides' "Mishneh Torah Systematic Code of Jewish Law" and the "Zohar," a primary text of Kabbalah — as well as the popular "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner. Among the purged Christian works is the best-selling "The Purpose-Driven Life," by Rick Warren. Further, according to the complaint, the Muslim section of the library at Otisville has been stripped of Islamic "prayer books, prayer guides and the 'Hadith,' which is the most important source for Muslim practice and faith after the Koran."
No word yet on which Unitarian Universalist books or media are on the approved list.
Update 9.12.07: A few more bits of the story, collected over the course of the day:
The American Academy of Religion issued a statement today clarifying that the AAR has had no role in developing the Bureau of Prisons list. As for the hard-to-find list of purged books, Christianity Today reported on the prison library purge back on July 10, with this detail no one else has reported:
The BOP is now working to complete a list of acceptable religious books of all faiths, which will not be available until October. After its initial release, the list will be updated and released annually, said a BOP representative.
Also: Newsweek mentioned the purge in its August 13 "BeliefWatch" column, and the Associated Press reported on the purge August 22. Track new developments with Google News and blog responses via Technorati.
("Executive director clarifies mention of AAR in the New York Times," Jack Fitzmier, American Academy of Religion 9.12.07; "Book bust," Elizabeth Lawson, Christianity Today [online only] 7.10.07; "Banned?" Lisa Miller, Newsweek 8.13.07; "2 New Yorkers sue to get their banned religious books back," Associated Press, International Herald Tribune 8.22.07)
Facing pressure from religious groups, civil libertarians and members of Congress, the federal Bureau of Prisons has decided to return religious materials that had been purged from prison chapel libraries because they were not on the bureauís lists of approved resources. . . .
The bureau has not abandoned the idea of creating such lists, Judi Simon Garrett, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail message. But rather than packing away everything while those lists were compiled, the religious materials will remain on the shelves, Ms. Garrett explained.
("Prisons to restore purged religious books," Neela Banerjee, New York Times 9.27.07)
Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 12 September 2007 at 7:45 AM