Thursday, 25 October 2007


This is quite an amazing article posted by Scott Harrop of Just World News.

"Rick Warren should be in jail." So should Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth, Robert H. Schuller, and perhaps even.... Helena Cobban. :-}

I'm referring, if you haven't guessed, to prison libraries and to the NYTimes report on new Federal Prison guidelines for libraries, specifically their sections on faith.

Kudos to Sojourners and "Sojo mail" for the catchy, if purposeful, headline about Mr. Warren. From their e-mail today:

Imagine walking into your local library, planning to read a theologian such as Reinhold Niebuhr or Karl Barth, or a popular inspirational work, such as Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven Life or Harold Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
But instead of finding such important and popular titles, you discover that the religion section has been decimated – stripped of any book that did not appear on a government-approved list.

That's exactly what's happening right now to inmates in federal prisons under a Bush Administration policy. As The New York Times put it, "chaplains have been quietly carrying out a systematic purge of religious books and materials that were once available to prisoners in chapel libraries."

Imagine, the Federal Prisons have labored to compile lists of approved books on faith; those not on the list get pulled or blocked. The specific criteria and the actual approved lists are not open for public review; this is, after all, the Bush-Cheney Administration.

So how did the Bush Administration, reputed for faith-based approaches to social problems, come up with this bizarre policy? Maybe it comes from the "Feith-based" neoconservative view of the world -- as in, "it's all about national security." According then to the "Stardardized Chapel Library Project," we prevent prisoners from accessing anything that would “discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize.” As claimed by the Federal Prisons spokesperson quoted in the Times,

“We really wanted consistently available information for all religious groups to assure reliable teachings as determined by reliable subject experts.”
Just who, we wonder, determines what religious materials are "reliable teachings?" What's meant by "radicalize," or "discrimination?" Should we prohibit a book that says there's only one way to be accepted by God? Wouldn't that be "discriminating" against others who pointed to another "path?" One would think, this is absurd. Or as the Mark Early of Prison Fellowship puts it,

“It’s swatting a fly with a sledgehammer.... 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.”
Meanwhile, back to the front lines in Iraq - and their religious freedoms - consider this allegation that some US soldiers are being compelled to participate in Christian services. Perhaps there's a "devil" or two in the details here, as I find it hard to believe that the Pentagon, much less Secretary Gates, would knowingly mandate the practice of any religion by soldiers.

Yet as we've noted here before, some "dispensationalist" Christian-zionist groups still view Iraq as a "crusade" for the spread of Christianity. It's advance will bring on the rapture, Armageddon, the return & reign of Christ, etc. etc. See, for example, Max Blumenthal's report on "Operation Straight Up" a group that operates with the Pentagon's "blessing" and proselytizes among active-duty members of the US military, including with inflammatory apocalyptic video games.

In the judgment of Mikey Weinstein, a former Reagan Administration White House,

"The constitution has been assaulted and brutalized,... Thanks to the influence of extreme Christian fundamentalism, the wall separating church and state is nothing but smoke and debris. And OSU is the IED that exploded the wall separating church and state in the Pentagon and throughout our military."
Meanwhile, the US State Department recently issued its annual, heavily politicized report on religious freedom around the world.

No doubt the rest of the world wonders:

"What, pray tell, gives you the standing to show us the way?


Anonymous said...

It would perhaps be better to keep those harmful things such as drugs etc out of prison than books that may change the inmates for the better.


Andrew Kenny said...

…Further info regarding the clear out of banned books from U.S. prisons. It turns out that
C. S. Lewis and Dietrich Bonhoeffer are allowed to stay in!

One comment states :'The latest book-banning fashion libraries at U.S. prisons have been pared down to no more than 150 “acceptable” religious titles by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Citing fears of religious extremism the Bureau commissioned what appears to be an arbitrary group of religious scholars to help them determine “what’s in” and “what’s out.” What’s out? The Purpose Driven Life, for one. Apparently Rick Warren’s books are being read by terrorist cells all across America. Many clandestine groups are having 40 day training sessions. Adherents are feared to be armed and dangerous'.

Perhaps the prisons need another brother Andrew to smuggle banned books across the prison gates in the same way he smuggled Bibles into Russia etc or the way drugs are usually smuggled into prison.Well not EXACTLY the same way!