Posted by: ourvoicestogether | September 10, 2007

Overkill on Countering Extremism in Prisons

Here is an entry from Our Voices Together intern, Jillian Vicinanza:

After reading the article Prisons Purging Books on Faith from Libraries, I was extremely confused by the reasoning behind some of the government’s actions. The website questions a claim within the prison system that suggests that by banning certain religious material, they are minimizing the possibility of recruitment to terrorist-run organizations among the inmates.

On the one hand, banning any readings with violent, extreme, or prejudiced overtones makes sense, especially within a prison-system. However, instead of eliminating books written by Islamic extremists or extreme fundamentalists, government officials have banned all religious materials (not including prayer books and books of worship) with the exception of 150 hand picked selections.

This makes absolutely no sense. The first problem is the fact that the government is now assuming the right to select which books they see as violent and which they see as appropriate or safe. Although government officials had the assistance of some chaplains, the government (after the separation of church and state) has never had the authority to decide which religious material is “acceptable”, nor should it. In addition to that, these bans are detrimental to inmates who should be allowed all the spiritual guidance they ask for.

It seems cruel not to allow someone to educate themselves, or mentally engage themselves, while in such a dismal atmosphere. How much personal opinion can the government enforce? Would this article be more compelling if we were considering the bans of religious materials from schools and arguing the rights of its students? If so, is it right that the people in federal and state run prisons are being treated as less-than-citizen? And if it is okay for the government to impose its religious views on a section of its people, where do we draw the line?

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