Well, anything that impugns on the separation of church and state infringes on freedom of religion, so it’s not exactly like this is a new thing for these guys. But this is pretty blatant. Prisons Purging Books on Faith From Libraries:

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.

So why the purge of religious texts? Pearl-clutching about “islamofascists”, of course. Funny, I can’t remember a single one of these guys being cultivated in the American prison system.

Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons, said the agency was acting in response to a 2004 report by the Office of the Inspector General in the Justice Department. The report recommended steps that prisons should take, in light of the Sept. 11 attacks, to avoid becoming recruiting grounds for militant Islamic and other religious groups. The bureau, an agency of the Justice Department, defended its effort, which it calls the Standardized Chapel Library Project, as a way of barring access to materials that could, in its words, ?discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize.?

Ms. Billingsley said, ?We really wanted consistently available information for all religious groups to assure reliable teachings as determined by reliable subject experts.?

But prison chaplains, and groups that minister to prisoners, say that an administration that put stock in religion-based approaches to social problems has effectively blocked prisoners? access to religious and spiritual materials ? all in the name of preventing terrorism.

?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.?

Unsurprisingly, limiting the list to 150 books for each religion means that even “acceptable” Western Christianity is being restricted.

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.

The Rev. Richard P. McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame (who edited ?The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism,? which did make the list), said the Catholic list had some glaring omissions, few spiritual classics and many authors he had never heard of.

?I would be completely sympathetic with Catholic chaplains in federal prisons if they?re complaining that this list is inhibiting,? he said, ?because I know they have useful books that are not on this list.?

Wow. Who ever would have thought that this government would suppress liberal Christianity and attempt to forcibly spread conservative evangelical Christianity. I suspect the Calvinism favored is of the Christian Reconstructionism variety.

Perhaps the best summary comes from a UofM law prof.

?Government does have a legitimate interest to screen out things that tend to incite violence in prisons,? Mr. Laycock said. ?But once they say, ?We?re going to pick 150 good books for your religion, and that?s all you get,? the criteria has become more than just inciting violence. They?re picking out what is accessible religious teaching for prisoners, and the government can?t do that without a compelling justification.”

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