In a hasty move, federal prisons across the United States have begun the process of removing certain religious resources from their collections. Correctional facilities have been instructed by the Bureau of Prisons to eliminate all religious books and other media that are not on a preapproved list. At the suggestion of the Department of Justice, and fearing that American prisons could become a haven for religiously motivated terrorists, the Bureau of Prisons recently began implementing the controversial policy.
While the new rules still permit a variety of religious resources (holy texts were unaffected and a panel of experts identified 150 approved books for each religion), some inmates have become angered at the infringement on their religious rights, and a class-action lawsuit is pending.
It is almost certain that the Bureau of Prisons is concerned primarily about Islamic extremists, so it is admirable that the new policy is equitable to all religions. But it is completely excessive in its scope. Of course combating terrorism is a noble cause, but it seems that the possible benefits gained from censorship are offset by massive losses. Some prisons are now watching decade-old book collections and donations from religious groups being taken away.
Rather than try to limit prisoners to a small pool of resources, the Bureau should eliminate only texts that are deemed inflammatory. As it stands now, many decent works are being swept away in this irrational crusade. Additionally, prison chaplains oversee the collections in penitentiaries and can refuse literature that could cause concern. Any donated resources must be approved by officials at the prison.
The entire approach from the Bureau of Prisons seems haphazard and overly zealous. Some governmental agency in this post-9/11 world must have a list of potentially “dangerous” religious materials. Make only those dangerous books the subject of a new policy, not thousands of other innocuous texts. As it stands now, the Bureau of Prisons is asserting itself in a way that can only be described as cruel and unusual.