I’ve been following the recent story regarding the “Standardized Chapel Library Project” Lists in the New York Times. I believe that those of us in the theoblogging community could weigh in here and really do some good to reverse this decision by the federal Bureau of Prisons to catalog and standardize for all religious federal inmates what they can and cannot read in their libraries. The New York Times acquired and has posted lists for nineteen religious categories. I would encourage you to download and look at these lists as I have, and look at what they consider acceptable.
Here are some items we can discuss and ask that the federal BOP make clear regarding its policies:
1. What “Standard” are they looking for? Please define appropriate and inappropriate material and for what reasons.
2. Who is making these decisions? If there is a panel, who is on it? If there is a voting process what does it entail?
3. How are the religious categories chosen? By demographic? By popularity? Do the inmates have a vote? Are the inmates being queried? The chaplains?
4. It is not only books, but visual and audio materials being standardized. On many of the lists I looked at, its not often clear how a particular movie forinstance, (“Indian in the Cupboard”) relates to the needs of the category (General Spirituality).
5. Who is each religious category addressing? Its not always clear. The categories assume, as with Judaism or Islam forinstance, that the faiths are monolithic in character. All Jews read the same materials the same way. In practice there are huge differences between Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed, and Reconstructionist Jews.
6. The category “Other Religions” demonstrates the care, sympathy, and affection of this whole process. It has two items on Christian Science and the Video and Audio fields are blank. “Messianic” would seem to indicate that the federal prison system is full of Messianic Jews, why else would there be a category just for them? Not only this, these churches have usually not been understand as their own separate religion. They are by-in-large protestant in nature, as I understand it. Many Messianic Jews belong to Christian churches and the materials listed are used by many Baptists, Charismatics, and Pentecostals.
7. It is interesting that the Catholic and Protestant lists are cross pollinated. NT Wright is found on the Catholic list and Henri Nouwen on the Protestant. Why? Truthought, LLC, not identified at all as a religious group, is on the Protestant list. They are “the Nation’s leading provider of Corrective Thinking™ and Criminal Thinking Seminars and Resources.” But how does that make them Protestant?
8. It seems that prisons are encouraging not only certain reading, but also certain providers. On the Orthodox list for instance, an address and contact info are given from which to order videos. I assume this means the library won’t stock them, but that they can be ordered. This leads to the question, Why not just order in everything? Why have libraries at all? Why not hand out money to the inmates every month and let them buy what they want for their own personal libraries? This whole standardization process assumes that the previous materials were ill-gotten, snuck in, overlooked. Who has made that arbitrary decision? How do the people who got the materials before feel about it?
Well, here are some talking points. Let’s get it started.