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Federal Prisons Take Elmer Fudd Approach to Book Ban

Jeremy Gunn,
Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief
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September 13, 2007

The new motto for the Federal Bureau of Prisons policy on banning religious books was taken directly from the Elmer Fudd Hunting Manual: "Ready! Fire! Aim!"

Acting in secret and without prior public notification (where have we heard that before?), the Federal Bureau of Prisons has been removing religious books from prison library shelves unless they were on a secret "approved list" of books. Inmates in a federal prison in Otisville, N.Y., sued the Bureau of Prisons for removing the religious texts last month, and The Jewish Week reports on Jewish community leaders' letter-writing campaign on behalf of the roughly 5,000 Jewish inmates in federal prisons across the country.

Apparently now banned from the library shelves are (among many others) books by Reinhold Niebuhr (a great Protestant theologian of twentieth century America), the popular Rabbi Harold "Why Bad Things Happen to Good People" Kushner, Robert Schuller (a staple of Sunday morning worship lineups), and Moses Maimonides (the most influential 12th century Jewish theologian and philosopher). It also seems that the book-banners didn't realize that the Torah consists of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament.

We would have hoped that our prisons would be well-stocked with books advising how to live ethically, religiously, and morally.

The book banning policy is officially defended as an effort to help keep prisons from being recruiting grounds for terrorists. While we think that is an admirable goal, and we would applaud conscientious efforts to do exactly that, it seems that the guardians of our prisons can't shoot straight.

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