ALA President Loriene Roy issued a statement over the weekend criticizing the Standardized Chapel Library Project (SCLP):
We are outraged to learn that the Bureau of Prisons is removing religious texts from prison chapel libraries based solely on whether or not the books are on a short list of ‘approved’ religious books. A government agency should not have the right to determine what religious texts are “appropriate” when our Constitution promises not only freedom of speech, but also freedom of religion.
The New York Times reported on the details of the project in its September 9 story.
According to the Times, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) initiated the SCLP in response to concerns that prisons might become recruiting grounds for radical Islamic groups and other radical religious groups. Under the initiative, the BOP has ordered its chaplains to remove and dispose of any book in the chapel library that does not appear on a list of up to 150 approved texts for each of twenty categories of religious practice.
As a result, hundreds of thousands of books that have been used for years without concern have been removed from prison chapel libraries. Because no funds were allotted for new book purchases, many chapel libraries were emptied. According to inmates in an Otisville, NY prison, only a Koran and two prayer books remained on the Islam shelf after the chapel library was emptied of books not on the “approved” lists.
Two prisoners have filed a lawsuit challenging the policy: Milstein v. Federal Bureau of Prisons (Complaint)
In a followup story, the Times reports that the BOP intends to follow through with the project, despite calls to end the program from religious leaders, civil liberties groups, and prisoners’ rights groups from across the religious and political spectrum.
UPDATE: The Bureau of Prisons has apparently decided to halt the Standardized Chapel Library Project. Per the Bureau’s spokesperson:
“In response to concerns expressed by members of several religious communities, the Bureau of Prisons has decided to alter its planned course of action with respect to the Chapel Library Project.
“The bureau will begin immediately to return to chapel libraries materials that were removed in June 2007, with the exception of any publications that have been found to be inappropriate, such as material that could be radicalizing or incite violence. The review of all materials in chapel libraries will be completed by the end of January 2008.”
Undisclosed is how and when books are to be returned to the shelves, what books will be kept off the shelves, and what criteria will be used to make those decisions.
Lists of “Approved” Religious Books
The Times posted copies of the lists of “approved” books in each of the recognized religious categories. Obtained from an anonymous source within the prison system, the Times cautions that the lists may have been altered since they obtained them: