In a move that seems slightly out of character (at first glance) for the Bush administration, chaplains in federal prisons are culling prison libraries of books on faith.
Notice I said “at first glance.” This is the Bush administration. So there’s got to be an agenda, right?
Of course, there is. As usual with these guardians of “the homeland” (is there a term in common usage that makes the gorge rise more than”the homeland”? I mean if they’d chosen something/anything else -say, “the mother ship” – at least we’d get a laugh out of it instead of always feeling that the term sounds discomfortingly jarring in Bush’s “silver-spoon-fed hick boy” Texas accent rather than in a clipped Teutonic one), there’s a “9/11” connection. A report from the Inspector General’s Office in the Department of Justice (that bastion of civil liberty and freedom in this administration) stated in 2004 that prisons might become recruiting grounds for “militant Islamic and other religious groups.” (Italics mine)
I know I’ve been concerned about Leavenworth and Atlanta becoming madrassas rather about than Gitmo and Abu Ghraib being proven to be American secret prisons practicing torture….
Lucky for us, the DOJ under that patriot Alberto Gonzalez has realized how dangerous books on faith can be. As Bureau of Prisons
mouthpiece spokesperson Traci Billingsley notes in her defense of this new policy:
We really wanted consistently available information for all religious groups to assure reliable teachings as determined by reliable subject experts. (Italics mine)
This policy seems incongruent in an administration that’s looking for “faith based” solutions to social problems, doesn’t it. Other people think so, too:
Itâ€™s swatting a fly with a sledgehammer. Thereâ€™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. – Mark Earley, president of Prison Fellowship, a Christian group.
The lists of acceptable texts, chosen by those “reliable subject experts,” seem inconsistent to the point of quirkiness. There’s lots of C.S. Lewis, no Karl Barth or Reinhold Niebuhr. There’s also no Robert Schuller, a minister one would think that Busheviks would find perfectly acceptable. Then, too, there’s the problem of funding. The removal of “unacceptable” faith books and the replacing of them with “acceptable” ones is, like so many Bushevik “education” mandates, unfunded:
The bureau (of prisons) has not provided additional money to prisons to buy the books on the lists, so in some prisons, after the shelves were cleared of books not on the lists, few remained.
Many prison chaplains, tasked with removing the “unacceptable” books, find this new purging policy unnecessary. As they point out, books that espouse extremist ideas or violence are rejected regularly, and all materials that were in prison libraries already had to be approved.
All this suggests the obvious – is there a 1st Amendment issue at stake? Professor Douglas Laycock of the University of Michigan law school believes that there is – mainly because (as usual) the Bush government has overreached:
Government does have a legitimate interest to screen out things that tend to incite violence in prisons. But once they say, â€˜Weâ€™re going to pick 150 good books for your religion, and thatâ€™s all you get,â€™ the criteria has become more than just inciting violence. Theyâ€™re picking out what is accessible religious teaching for prisoners, and the government canâ€™t do that without a compelling justification. Here the justification is, the government is too busy to look at all the books, so theyâ€™re going to make their own preferred list to save a little time, a little money.
Finally, there’s the nature of the list itself. Although the government hasn’t made the list public, it’s been leaked, and even evangelical scholars are baffled at some of the choices. Timothy Larsen, professor of Christian Thought at the evangelical Wheaton College, thinks the list is skewed:
There are some well-chosen things in here. Iâ€™m particularly glad that Dietrich Bonhoeffer is there. If I was in prison I would want to read Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But thereâ€™s a lot about it thatâ€™s weird. The lists show a bias toward evangelical popularism and Calvinism, and lack materials from early church fathers, liberal theologians and major Protestant denominations.
Besides the predictable exclusion of Islamic texts, the list also shows a bias against Catholic and Jewish scholarship. And forget about areas like Wiccan studies.
One can only guess at the why of this latest assault on free speech by the Bush administration. Maybe it’s their foolish and futile attempt to derail the education of an American Osama – or another Malcolm X. Maybe purging prison libraries is a first step toward purging any libraries that receive federal funding of any kind of books that Bush – or those like him – find unacceptable.
As with most every policy of the Busheviks, it’s difficult to tell bad intent from stupidity.
Categories: Religion & Philosophy