Friday, September 21, 2007
Unitarian books not approved for prison libraries.
Today's New York Times follows up on a story two weeks ago about the federal Bureau of Prisons' purge of all religious books not on an undisclosed approved list called the "Standardized Prison Chapel Project." The online version of today's story includes links to the lists of approved books. Unsurprisingly perhaps, Unitarian Universalism is not one of the "20 religions or religious categories" that prison chapel libraries may contain books about. In other words, no book explicitly about Unitarian Universalism is currently allowed on federal prison bookshelves.
The lists leaked to the Times are divided into these categories: Bahai, Buddhist, Catholic, General Spirituality, Hindu, Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, Judaism, Messianic, Mormon, Nation of Islam, Native American, Orthodox, Other Religions (a list featuring only two books, both Christian Science-related), Pagan, Protestant (titled "Christian" on the document itself),Rastafarian, Sikh, and Yoruba.
Intriguingly, a number of Beacon Press books are on the approved lists. The "General Spirituality" list includes The Spiritual Emerson, ed. by David Robinson; The Power of Non-Violence by Howard Zinn; The Best Things in Life Aren't Things by Joann Davis; In Our Own Best Interest by William Schulz; Sustainable Planet by Juliet Schor; and Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. The "Buddhist" list includes The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh. The "Rastafarians" list includes The Rastafarians: Sounds of Cultural Dissonance by Leonard Barrett. The "Pagan" list includes Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon.
There are two major reasons for Unitarian Universalists to be outraged by the "Standardized Chapel Library Project." First, although one can argue that the government has a limited but real interest in restricting prisoners' access to certain kinds of information, that state interest cannot override prisoners' Constitutional right to a free exercise of religion. The government has no right to identify some religious books and ideas as state-sanctioned. But second, it's outrageous that books presenting Unitarian, Universalist, and other religious liberal ideas are entirely missing from the government's approved list.
You can register your dismay with the Bureau of Prisons by sending a letter from the Sojourners site: Stop censoring prison libraries.
A few tidbits: Despite earlier news reports, Rick Warren is approved. So are a few of Harold Kushner's books. I was struck that several landmark works of feminist and liberation theology are included, but there are virtually no representatives of liberal Protestantism.
My earlier post on this subject includes links to other news reports and updates.
Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 21 September 2007 at 5:50 PM