Dallas Willard, Billy Graham, and Rick Warren should be in prison

I would love to here your comments on this article published: September 10, 2007 in ‘The New York Times’

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
Behind the walls of federal prisons nationwide, chaplains have been quietly carrying out a systematic purge of religious books and materials that were once available to prisoners in chapel libraries.
The chaplains 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.
Some inmates are outraged. Two of them, a Christian and an Orthodox Jew, in a federal prison camp in upstate New York, filed a class-action lawsuit last month claiming the bureau’s actions violate their rights to the free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
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.”
Ms. Billingsley said, “We really wanted consistently available information for all religious groups to assure reliable teachings as determined by reliable subject experts.”
But prison chaplains, and groups that minister to prisoners, say that an administration that put stock in religion-based approaches to social problems has effectively blocked prisoners’ access to religious and spiritual materials — all in the name of preventing terrorism.
“It’s swatting a fly with a sledgehammer,” said Mark Earley, president of Prison Fellowship, a Christian group. “There’s no need to get rid of literally hundreds of thousands of books that are fine simply because you have a problem with an isolated book or piece of literature that presents extremism.”
The Bureau of Prisons said it relied on experts to produce lists of up to 150 book titles and 150 multimedia resources for each of 20 religions or religious categories — everything from Bahaism to Yoruba. The lists will be expanded in October, and there will be occasional updates, Ms. Billingsley said. Prayer books and other worship materials are not affected by this process.
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.
The identities of the bureau’s experts have not been made public, Ms. Billingsley said, but they include chaplains and scholars in seminaries and at the American Academy of Religion. Academy staff members said their organization had met with prison chaplains in the past but was not consulted on this effort, though it is possible that scholars who are academy members were involved.
The bureau has not provided additional money to prisons to buy the books on the lists, so in some prisons, after the shelves were cleared of books not on the lists, few remained.
A chaplain who has worked more than 15 years in the prison system, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is a bureau employee, said: “At some of the penitentiaries, guys have been studying and reading for 20 years, and now they are told that this material doesn’t meet some kind of criteria. It doesn’t make sense to them. They’re asking, ‘Why are our tapes being taken, why our books being taken?’ ”
Of the lists, he said, “Many of the chaplains I’ve spoken to say these are not the things they would have picked.”
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.
Religious groups that work with prisoners have privately been writing letters about their concerns to bureau officials. Would it not be simpler, they asked the bureau, to produce a list of forbidden titles? But the bureau did that last year, when it instructed the prisons to remove all materials by nine publishers — some Muslim, some Christian.
The plan to standardize the libraries first became public in May when several inmates, including a Muslim convert, at the Federal Prison Camp in Otisville, N.Y., about 75 miles northwest of Manhattan, filed a lawsuit acting as their own lawyers. Later, lawyers at the New York firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison took on the case pro bono. They refiled it on Aug. 21 in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York.
“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?”
The lawsuit raises serious First Amendment concerns, said Douglas Laycock, a professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School, but he added that it was not a slam-dunk case.
“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.”
The lists have not been made public by the bureau, but were made available to The Times by a critic of the bureau’s project. In some cases, the lists indicate their authors’ preferences. For example, more than 80 of the 120 titles on the list for Judaism are from the same Orthodox publishing house. A Catholic scholar and an evangelical Christian scholar who looked over some of the lists were baffled at the selections.
Timothy Larsen, who holds the Carolyn and Fred McManis Chair of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, an evangelical school, looked over lists for “Other Christian” and “General Spirituality.”
“There are some well-chosen things in here,” Professor Larsen said. “I’m particularly glad that Dietrich Bonhoeffer is there. If I was in prison I would want to read Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” But he continued, “There’s a lot about it that’s weird.” The lists “show a bias toward evangelical popularism and Calvinism,” he said, and lacked materials from early church fathers, liberal theologians and major Protestant denominations.
The Rev. Richard P. McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame (who edited “The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism,” which did make the list), said the Catholic list had some glaring omissions, few spiritual classics and many authors he had never heard of.
“I would be completely sympathetic with Catholic chaplains in federal prisons if they’re complaining that this list is inhibiting,” he said, “because I know they have useful books that are not on this list.”

The Marriage Course update

session_1.jpgSession 7 of the marriage course is on tonight. This the last session of the course, it is titled ‘Love in Action’. Tonight’s session is based of the best selling book ‘The Five Love Languages’ by Gary Chapman. Chapman says, there are five ways through which we can express love. These expressions are like languages that communicate love. Loving words, Thoughtful presents Physical affection, Quality time, and Kind actions. When we look at the life of Jesus, He showed love in all five ways.

It looks like we will begin a new Marriage Course on the 11th of September. This will be with a larger group of couples. We are hoping to have 10 couples attend the course this time. Please keep praying for Martha and I as we lead.

The Marriage Course update

session_1.jpgThe marriage course resumed last Wednesday. The topic was “Good Sex” and how Sexual intimacy needs to be worked at and developed. In this session we enable each couple to communicate to each other about their expectations and disappointments and to recognise where they need to make changes. Next week we will have our final session ‘Love in Action’, before The marriage course party.

Welcome

Welcome and thank you for visiting this site. If this is your first time visiting this site please check out our about us page and recent posts to find out what we have been up over last few months. We have included books we are currently reading and also some books we recommend reading. If you would like to comment on any of these books please do. We hope you will visit us often.

July news

Greetings from one of the wettest summers ever. It’s just been raining nearly every day. Yesterday we woke, unexpectedly, to blue skies and sunshine, so we seized the moment and brought the kids to the beach, where we had a lovely day of finding crabs among the rocks, playing in the sand, and braving the waves in a cold Irish Sea. We only had to huddle in the car through one shower. It actually felt like summer!
A day like that makes you realize how much happier you feel, how much more positive your outlook on life when the sun is shining. It’s the same when we are living in the light of God’s presence. Yet in our busy lives, we often don’t take time to feel the sunshine kiss our cheek.
This year (and I mean the past ten months or so, the year really starts in September) has brought this forcibly home to us, as it has been one of our busiest ever in ministry. Speaking, running Alpha, leading cell, youth group, pastoral needs, leadership decisions, have kept us both very busy. Along with that has been school; Phily had a tough year of papers and deadlines in his masters course, and everyone else of course had an active school year as well. We’ve taken a little time off this month, so feeling a little less worn!
In June we started leading a marriage course with three other couples. The plan is to run through it as a taster with a few couples, then lead it on a larger scale in the autumn. So far it has been going really well, with all participants getting a lot out of it. With so many things pulling against marriages, it’s a great way to help couples build strength into their relationship.
Also in June, the youth group took part in Radiate, an initiative by Trinity and other youth leaders to involve our youth and those of other churches in reaching out to the city. They did clean-up projects, put on barbecues, painted, and had fun with the kids in some of the poorer housing developments (some of it in conjunction with Dublin Christian Mission). Patrick and Julie took part and Philip was one of the leaders. The kids all worked really hard and were brilliant with the children; which was the best part for them. Next year the plan is to run this again on a much larger scale, hopefully involving churches from all over Ireland.
This week the youth are helping run a kids club (like VBS) in Dublin. They are working with the youth from another Church, St. Mark’s, which is hosting the club, and a team of teenagers from Oklahoma. They run the club together during the day, then have dinner and fun activities together in the evening, so it’s a full week.
On Sunday our youth will be leading the morning service in Lucan, a first. Patrick will be giving the message, so please pray for him as it will be his first time.
We are trying to get our website up and running; we are still trying to figure out how to put pictures on it. You can check it out at philandmartha.org but remember it is still a work in progress. So if you have any recommendations/ideas please let us know. Philip adds brief updates, so you can keep up with what’s happening between these epistles. Thank you for standing with us in prayer and support.