Prison Bureau Relents on Purging Books, Will Return Most Religion Texts

Article excerpt

Yielding to pressure from religious leaders and members of Congress, the federal Bureau of Prisons has ended a purge at prison libraries of "nonapproved" religious books and materials. The purge was undertaken because of terrorism concerns. Books taken off shelves will be returned, the bureau announced September 26, except for material "that could be radicalizing or incite violence."

Those alarmed by the removals that started in June 2007 spanned the liberal-conservative spectrum after news stories noted the many standard works that were rejected.

Books not approved included works by respected 20th-century theologians such as Reinhold Niebuhr and Karl Barth, and contemporary fare such as Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Life and Harold Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

"The idea of government bureaucrats drafting a list of approved books on religion seems like something out of Soviet-era Russia, not the United States of America, where freedom of religion, even for those behind prison walls, is something we treasure," said the Christian activist organization Sojourners in an e-mail last month to its supporters.

Traci Billingsley, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Prisons, told the New York Times that the policy was prompted by a 2004 Justice Department report which warned of the need to prevent U.S. prisons from becoming places where those advocating militant Islamic beliefs or other religious views deemed "extremist" could recruit followers. …

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