USA reconsiders prison religious book ban after protests

By Ecumenical News International
2 Oct 2007

The US Federal Bureau of Prisons has said it will return "non-approved" religious books and other materials that were removed from the shelves of federal prison libraries because of concerns over the threat of terrorism -writes Chris Herlinger.

The prisons bureau had come under pressure from religious groups and some US lawmakers over the original measures, called the "Standardised Chapel Library Project".

This had led to works by internationally respected 20th century theologians, such as Karl Barth, being excluded from prison libraries because they were not on a list of 150 approved book titles.

In a 27 September statement, the bureau said that while it would return to the shelves materials that had been removed in recent months, it would still compile a more complete list of acceptable material.

The bureau said it expected that some "inappropriate" materials that could be deemed "radicalising", or might "incite violence" could still be removed, though the amount of such material would probably be small.

Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican and member of the House of Representatives, said he remained concerned the chapel library project had not been fully eliminated.

"It appears they've taken the car and put it in neutral, but they didn't put it in park," The Associated Press quoted Hensarling as saying.

Nonetheless, the leader of one of the religious groups that had criticised the prisons' bureau applauded the modified policy, and said the authorities had listened "to the concerns of a diversity of faith communities."

Prison Fellowship president Mark Earley commented, "By returning to the common sense approach of getting rid of only those materials that incite violence, they ensure that prisoners have access to a wide range of quality religious works that will help them become productive members of society when they are released back to our communities."

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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