U.S. 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.
Some inmates are outraged. Two of them, a Christian and an Orthodox Jew, in a federal prison camp in upstate New York, filed a class-action lawsuit last month claiming the bureau's actions violate their rights to the free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
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."
The Bureau of Prisons said it relied on experts to produce lists of up to 150 book titles and 150 multimedia resources for each of 20 religions or religious categories - everything from Bahaism to Yoruba. The lists will be expanded in October, and there will be occasional updates, Ms. Billingsley said. Prayer books and other worship materials are not affected by this process.
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.
The identities of the bureau's experts have not been made public, Ms. Billingsley said, but they include chaplains and scholars in seminaries and at the American Academy of Religion. Academy staff members said their organization had met with prison chaplains in the past but was not consulted on this effort, though it is possible that scholars who are academy members were involved.
The bureau 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.
A chaplain who has worked more than 15 years in the prison system, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is a bureau employee, said: "At some of the penitentiaries, guys have been studying and reading for 20 years, and now they are told that this material doesn't meet some kind of criteria. It doesn't make sense to them. They're asking, `Why are our tapes being taken, why our books being taken?' " Of the lists, he said, "Many of the chaplains I've spoken to say these are not the things they would have picked."
The effort is unnecessary, the chaplain said, because chaplains routinely reject any materials that incite violence or disparage, and donated materials already had to be approved by prison officials. Prisoners can buy religious books, he added, but few have much money to spend.
Religious groups that work with prisoners have privately been writing letters about their concerns to bureau officials. Would it not be simpler, they asked the bureau, to produce a list of forbidden titles? But the bureau did that last year, when it instructed the prisons to remove all materials by nine publishers - some Muslim, some Christian.
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. Later, lawyers at the New York firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison took on the case pro bono. They refiled it on Aug. 21 in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York.
"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."
Mr. Zwiebel asked, "Since when does the government, even with the assistance of chaplains, decide which are the most basic books in terms of religious study and practice?"
The lawsuit raises serious First Amendment concerns, said Douglas Laycock, a professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School, but he added that it was not a slam-dunk case.
"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. Here the justification is, the government is too busy to look at all the books, so they're going to make their own preferred list to save a little time, a little money."
The lists have not been made public by the bureau, but were made available to The Times by a critic of the bureau's project. In some cases, the lists belie their authors' preferences. For example, more than 80 of the 120 titles on the list for Judaism are from the same Orthodox publishing house. A Catholic scholar and an evangelical Christian scholar who looked over some of the lists were baffled at the selections.
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."
Queen may be scrapped from UK passports
Anything to undermine a British identity
References to the Queen could be taken out of British passports in a bid to make them more European, it has emerged. The new documents, which could be in place as early as 2010, would bear reference to the EU constitution in order to remind UK citizens that they are part of Europe.
The first page of the British passport has historically featured the royal coat of arms with a message from the Queen beginning: "Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State". The words go on to outline that the citizen has a right to travel freely and has the right to protection and assistance.
Under new changes, however, it has been suggested that the coat of arms are scrapped and replaced by the EU emblem of 12 stars with the message underneath reading: "Every citizen of the Union".
The new version has been taken from Article 20 of the EU Constitution, the treaty that was discredited two years ago after it was rejected by member states including France and the Netherlands. This particular section of the treaty reminded citizens that they were part of Europe and had rights as an EU citizen.
A spokesman from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: "The changes relate to Article 20 of the EU Treaty which proposes EU language to be inserted into British passports. "It's still under consideration and no decision has been taken yet."
The proposals were criticised by the Tories as yet another example of the EU gaining more power over British citizens. William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, said: "People want to be proud to be British and their passports should have a clear association with that. There is no good reason to change the traditional presentation of our passports. "These proposals are yet another illustration of how the British people must be given their say in a referendum before any new powers are signed over to the EU under a proposed new treaty."
The British passports have born reference to the monarch since 1915 when the first blue hardback booklets were handed out to citizens. They remained the same until 20 years ago when they were replaced by smaller burgundy booklets with the words European Union printed across the cover.
Now, the new versions of the passport would state that Britain is obliged to look after the citizens of other EU countries on the same basis as its own nationals. Article 20 of the treaty, on which the revised wording would be based, states that if an EU citizen does not have his own government to look after him he can expect assistance from any other EU state he chooses.
A modern-day coathanger episode
This woman will have BIG lifetime regrets
As pro-lifers protested on Saturday at the Omaha home of Planned Parenthood abortionist Meryl Severson, news broke that Severson is being sued by a 40-year old woman whose abortion he botched.
The woman, who filed the suit Friday under the pseudonym "Jane Roe," alleges that Severson so severely botched her abortion that she lost 80% of her total blood volume and required an emergency hysterectomy to save her life.
According to the complaint, the woman reported to the Lincoln Planned Parenthood office on August 17, 2007, for an abortion in the 8th week of pregnancy. During the suction abortion, she felt a sharp, excruciating pain and asked abortionist Severson to stop. Three employees then held the woman down while he completed the suction process in spite of her pleas.
In the recovery area, a friend who accompanied her to the abortion clinic attempted to help her to the bathroom, but the woman, who was in intense pain and bleeding, passed out and suffered the first of three seizures.
The woman was transported by ambulance to the local hospital where doctors treated her for "catastrophic perforation" of the uterus, which would have resulted in her death if treatment had been delayed any longer.
"This is yet another horror story from a Planned Parenthood abortion mill," said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman. "How many women has this happened to that have not filed lawsuits? When we see stories like this, we know it is just the tip of the iceberg."
Severson lives in Omaha, but splits his time between three abortion mills in Lincoln, Nebraska; Council Bluffs and Sioux City, Iowa.
Larry Donlan of Rescue the Heartland led the protest at Severson's home that included one of Operation Rescue's Truth Trucks, which circled through the neighborhood showing the consequences of abortion.
"People need to be aware that when they walk into a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, they may not walk out," said Newman.
Proposed Chilean Law Threatens Religious Freedom
Would destroy the legal right to oppose homosexual behavior
The Chilean Senate will vote today on a proposed law to extend "non-discrimination" protection to homosexuals, which opponents warn would destroy the legal right to oppose homosexual behavior.
The bill, which is called the Law to Establish Measures against Discrimination, has been working its way through the Chilean congress since 2006, and is strongly supported by Chile's socialist president, Michelle Bachelet. It defines "discrimination" as "any distinction, exclusion or restriction based on...sexual orientation". It also lists numerous other protected categories, including "sex, gender" as two distinct types, implying privileges also for "transgender people" who believe they are really the opposite sex.
The Chilean youth organization Muevete Chile! (Go Chile!) is urging citizens to contact their Senators to oppose the measure, offering a pre-written email that can be sent after adding one's name and email address.
Go Chile! warns that if the bill is passed, Chileans will no longer be able to oppose homosexual sexual acts, stating that the bill "approves sexual deviations, punishing whomever dares to speak against such tendencies with both economic and criminal penalties."
The measure is also opposed by the Chilean pro-family group Family Action, which has sent letters to all Senators asking them to reject it. "If you want Chile to have freedom of expression for the Christians who are opposed to this conduct, within the proper limits of respect for persons, vote against the bill," they urged.
Although the bill could have far-reaching effects on Chilean society and is unlikely to have the support of the strongly conservative Chilean population, the major media have hardly mentioned the bill's impending vote. However, homosexual websites in Chile have given it extensive coverage.
"This bill hasn't been promoted by the citizenry, but rather by the gay lobby, and so much so that it calls attention to the fact that the bill doesn't penalize, for example, arbitrary discrimination such as that which is practiced against the unborn" states Go Chile!.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.