I've done stories with Laurie Goodstein before, and she is a good reporter. Her most recent story in yesterday's NY Times is both disturbing and not really surprising in view of the shift in the Zeitgeist of our culture. Here is the link and header for the story.
Prisons Purge Books on Faith From Libraries
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
In federal prisons, chaplains have been quietly carrying
out a systematic purge of religious books and materials
that were once available to prisoners in chapel libraries.
What is happening in our culture in general has gradually trickled down to prisons in particular. It parallels as well what has happened in other sorts of government run entities, for instance the military. Call it creeping pluralism, call it the purging of the Judeo-Christian tradition of our country, whatever you call it, it effects the work of chaplains in our prisons and what prisoners can read while they are incarcerated. What has happened is that Judeo-Christian religion as the dominate cultural paradigm has been downgraded to one amongst several equals, and the previous lack of restrictions on proselytizing, at least in some contexts, has changed. What is most interesting about this story is the response of some who see the purging of books as an abridgment of the freedom of religion of prisoners. This is an interesting case because of course prisoners have forfeited at least some of their rights by commiting crimes, one of which is the freedom of movement. But should these restrictions include censoring what they can read in the prison library? I think it is right to raise questions about this new pattern of elimination of religious material. One has to ask what is the criteria for inclusion and exclusion. We are told that the authorities had a panel of 'experts' and scholars from the AAR, from seminaries, and some chaplains. I have to say I have never run into anyone who said they were on such a panel in any of these forums or groups, but that may just be a random accident. But the fact that some chaplains are not happy with what is on the approved lists is revealing, and suggests that not enough persons were considered. The two criteria mentioned in the article is that they wanted literature by experts in the field (which would presumably exclude books by lay persons or even pastors on the Bible) and they did not want any literature by fanatics who would promote extremism (Islamic or otherwise).
So what do you think about this trend? Does it violate the prisoner's rights, specifically their freedom of religion? Does it impede the chaplains from doing their job of helping the rehabilitation process? What interests or disturbs you most about all this?