Sunday, September 16, 2007

sunday morning comin' down

the christian science monitor and the times are reporting on a federal bureau of prisons policy to remove religious books from prison libraries.

BOP chaplains no longer screen books on a case-by-case basis. instead, a panel has created an approved list of books for each of 20 religions. inmates in otisville, new york have filed suit in protest.

institutions understand that redefining the default practice can bring about a remarkable shift in policy. here, by changing the default from inclusion to exclusion, only a relative handful of books will even be considered for libraries. aside from the obvious problems with an approved list (e.g., who approves? how often? under what criteria?) an almost infinite number of fine spiritual books will never be reviewed. for example, robert schuller, reinhold niebuhr, moses maimonides, and rick warren's the purpose-driven life are omitted. i doubt that these were censored on the basis of objectionable content.

imagine, for a moment, what an approved sociology list might include -- habits of the heart might make the cut, but who would read and review lesser-known works? i've sent free copies of locked out to a few prison libraries in response to requests by inmates or instructors. as far as i know, these remain on the shelves. today, as in earlier periods, political content seems far less threatening than religious content.

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