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Prisons Purging Books on Faith in Prison Libraries

Mark Kleiman has a column on the simple-minded, authoritarian response by this adminstration, to the 9/11 attacks, that is straight out of the Third Reich, well almost..

The good news
... is that the Federal Bureau of Prisons isn't actually burning religious books. The BOP simply made a list of approved books and other media (no more than 150 books and 150 other items for each of 20 religious categories) and ordered prison chaplains to get rid of any item not on the "approved" list.

Footnote. Oh, and of course the lists themselves are secret; someone had to leak them to the NYT. After all, this is the Bush Administration, which figures that the less we know about what it's up to, the better.

From the aforementioned ' NY Times' report:

It's swatting a fly with a sledgehammer," said Mark Earley, president of Prison Fellowship, a Christian group. "There's no need to get rid of literally hundreds of thousands of books that are fine simply because you have a problem with an isolated book or piece of literature that presents extremism."

Professor Larsen said. 'The lists "show a bias toward evangelical popularism and Calvinism," and lacked materials from early church fathers, liberal theologians and major Protestant denominations.

The lists are broad, but reveal eccentricities and omissions. There are nine titles by C. S. Lewis, for example, and none from the theologians Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth and Cardinal Avery Dulles, and the influential pastor Robert H. Schuller.

From the The New York Law Journal

The plan to standardize the libraries first became public in May when several inmates, including a Muslim convert, at the Federal Prison Camp in Otisville, N.Y., about 75 miles northwest of Manhattan, filed a lawsuit acting as their own lawyers. ...

"Otisville had a very extensive library of Jewish religious books, many of them donated," said David Zwiebel, executive vice president for government and public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish group. "It was decimated. Three-quarters of the Jewish books were taken off the shelves."

According to the complaint, banned 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.

I don't recall any of the 9/11 terrorists being in an American prison and their ring leader, Mohammed Atta did his master's thesis in Hamburg on the early architecture of Aleppo ...Don't tell Bush...Of course this is silly and about on the level of a West Virginia county banning Hucklebury Finn from its public library shelves.. But it raises an important issue that Bush is always touting to his foreign audiences; the superior first amendment rights to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference (when there is no security issue) that America enjoys or did, until recently, when this lot seized power.

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Comments (2)


This is my first visit to WizBangBlue - being an Evangelical Christian, the title of this post caught my eye.

As a teacher, I get nerved up about book banning in general - I just discussed with two colleagues my concern that some school systems are banning my favorite book, "To Kill a Mockingbird", because of "The N Word". That book brought SO much to light about the suppression of blacks in the deep south during that era that it amazes me that anyone could be idiotic enough to ban it.

As a Christian, it concerns me that good religious books are being removed from prison library shelves. "The Purpose-Driven Life", for example, can do nothing but good in the life of anyone who reads and heeds.

On the flip side, however, I got to wondering about how the pendulum has swung WAY too far with regard to the rights of those incarcerated in this country. In other words, if they lose the right to vote, which has never been at question (to my knowledge) shouldn't it stand to reason that they lose other rights as well? I have oftentimes joked that I should steal a car so I can "finally finish my education".

Should a prison library be a place where one can find ANY book one wants to enjoy in one's cell? I'm sure the ACLU would wish us to believe so.

Regardless of your side on this matter, it's an interesting debate - one I plan to use in my adult education classes - so THANKS for this post.

Steve Crickmore:

Thanks for your comment, Candy. Yes, a rigorously applied 'approved list' seems even more pernicious and comprehensive than a strictly applied banned list. I could understand the prison authorities banning a book 'How do build a fertilizer bomb' but as you suggest many of these books --(I haven't read the Rick Warren book but I have read the Kushner book) are excellent and inspirational--and to remove them from the shelves of all prisons only serves to fulfill the insane prophecies of someone like bin Laden for a radically more closed society.


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