Federal Ban On Religious Books In Prison “Clumsy”–Gerson


The U.S. Bureau of Prisons new policy of allowing only certain noncontroversial books on religion in prisons is “late, clumsy and self-defeating, all at the same time,” says Michael Gerson, former speech writer for President Bush, in a Washington Post commentary. The immediate effect has been to decimate prison libraries collected over decades. A policy directed at jihadist literature has resulted in the removal of three-quarters of the Jewish books at the Otisville Prison in New York, including Rabbi Harold Kushner’s “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”

Prison inmates do not have the full legal protections of other citizens; prisons could justifiably ban “Tunnel Digging for Dummies,” says Gerson. He notes that the free exercise of religion in prison enjoys increased protections. In 1993, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, setting a stricter standard of scrutiny for actions that limit prisoner religious expression. Prison officials must show a compelling state interest and use the least restrictive means to secure that interest. “This is a policy from the same people who brought you the IRS and the DMV,” says Kevin Hasson, chairman of the Becket Fund. “It is an awkward, heavy-handed program to deal with a subtle problem. The obvious thing to do is for prisons to remove books, religious or otherwise, that incite violence.”

Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/13/AR2007091301414.html

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