Monday, September 10, 2007

Freedom for Me, but not for Thee

NPR this morning noted that, in the case of the "Lackawana 6," Dick Cheney personally prevailed upon Louis Freeh to make arrests because Freeh could not state with "100% certainty" that these suspected terrorists would not commit a criminal act. Pre-emptive justice is one way to put it. "Guilty until proven innocent" is the more accurate phrase.

And the beat goes on:

The chaplains [of federal prisons] were directed by the Bureau of Prisons to clear the shelves of any books, tapes, CDs and videos that are not on a list of approved resources. In some prisons, the chaplains have recently dismantled libraries that had thousands of texts collected over decades, bought by the prisons, or donated by churches and religious groups.


Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons, said the agency was acting in response to a 2004 report by the Office of the Inspector General in the Justice Department. The report recommended steps that prisons should take, in light of the Sept. 11 attacks, to avoid becoming recruiting grounds for militant Islamic and other religious groups. The bureau, an agency of the Justice Department, defended its effort, which it calls the Standardized Chapel Library Project, as a way of barring access to materials that could, in its words, “discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize.”
What's on, and what's off? Well...

The lists are broad, but reveal eccentricities and omissions. There are nine titles by C. S. Lewis, for example, and none from the theologians Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth and Cardinal Avery Dulles, and the influential pastor Robert H. Schuller.
And is this effort really necessary?

The effort is unnecessary, the chaplain said, because chaplains routinely reject any materials that incite violence or disparage, and donated materials already had to be approved by prison officials. Prisoners can buy religious books, he added, but few have much money to spend.
And no, it's not just Muslim titles that are being removed, and yes, there is the question of why the government can decide, in such a blanket way, what is "approved:"

“Otisville had a very extensive library of Jewish religious books, many of them donated,” said David Zwiebel, executive vice president for government and public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish group. “It was decimated. Three-quarters of the Jewish books were taken off the shelves.”

Mr. Zwiebel asked, “Since when does the government, even with the assistance of chaplains, decide which are the most basic books in terms of religious study and practice?”
As Hecate asks (from whom I got this link), what about "pagan" titles?

The silence on that, of course, is deafening.

The constitutional question can be stated succinctly, and it is:

“Government does have a legitimate interest to screen out things that tend to incite violence in prisons,” Mr. Laycock said. “But once they say, ‘We’re going to pick 150 good books for your religion, and that’s all you get,’ the criteria has become more than just inciting violence. They’re picking out what is accessible religious teaching for prisoners, and the government can’t do that without a compelling justification. Here the justification is, the government is too busy to look at all the books, so they’re going to make their own preferred list to save a little time, a little money.”
That "justification," by the way, hardly meets the standard of "compelling." And, of course, the most telling part:

The lists have not been made public by the bureau....
Public notice can be so embarassing. I guess if the terrorists knew what was banned in prison, they'd go out and read it; or something.

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