Civil Liberties, Religion Groups Oppose Prison Library Curbs


Religious organizations and civil liberties groups that often are on opposite sides of contentious issues have joined to condemn a proposed rule that they say would prohibit some religious texts in federal penitentiary libraries, reports the New York Times. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons in January proposed that “materials that could incite, promote, or otherwise suggest the commission of violence or criminal activity” may be excluded from chapel libraries. An alliance of groups – Christian, Muslim and Jewish, conservative and liberal – opposed the rule during the open comments period, which ended yestered.

The word “could” is at the center of a two-year dispute between the agency and these groups over which religious texts should be banned from prison libraries. The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights and religious groups argue that the agency is going beyond the Second Chance Act of 2007, which included a restriction on materials that “seek” to incite violence. They argue that the act was meant to prohibit only books that intend to suggest violence, and that the agency's new rule would expand that ban to all books that could possibly lead to violence. “Those one or two words have incredibly broad significance because of what they do to the scope of what books can be taken away,” said David Shapiro, an ACLU lawyer. “They could remove texts that are critical to prisoners' ability to practice their religion.” The agency cited a 2004 report on prison religious services by the Justice Department inspector general that suggested censoring certain materials to prevent the radicalization of inmates.

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