Prison chapel libraries may soon become sparser if the Bureau of Prisons gets its way. In its zeal to prevent inmates from becoming violent religious radicals, the BOP has proposed a policy that would snatch from inmates' reach any materials that â€œcouldâ€ incite, promote, or suggest violence. Religious liberty groups, such as the Alliance Defense Fund, are up in arms. Rightly so.
The Bureau of Prisonsâ€™ proposed language casts such a wide net that many Christian books and even the Bible itself could wind up on the banned list if someone can conjure up their possible link to violent behavior. The BOP tried something like this a couple of years ago by setting up the Standardized Chapel Library Project, which created a black list of religious texts to be removed from prison chapels. The list was so extensive that it threatened prisonersâ€™ right to practice religion. Thankfully, the Second Chance Act discontinued the Project. The Second Chance Act also tried to prevent any future BOP schemes by allowing the Bureau to only remove materials that â€œseekâ€ to incite violence. Apparently, the BOP has little intention of remaining within the bounds of the law.
Keeping inmates from becoming religious radicals is necessary for public safety. But the BOPâ€™s broad, hazy language poses a grave threat to peaceful religious expression. If the BOP is truly interested in protecting us from violence, it will encourage inmates to read books that lead to their moral transformation.