One shoe off

September 15, 2007

This is SO 1984 …

Filed under: 9/11,Bad Government,books,constitution,Jesus,libraries — Liz @ 10:04 pm

<sigh> I’d like to get a hold of a prison chaplain and ask them for a copy of the list.

In brief, the Bureau of Prisons has decided that prison chaplains must remove from their libraries any material not on a pre-approved list. Why? Need you ask? The same reason the government makes every decision lately: to combat terrorism. The feds don’t want prisoners converting to Islam while their in prison.

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.”

The copy of the list is not public, but according to my Web research C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a whole bunch of Orthodox Jewish books are in. Barth, Niebuhr, Kushner (When Bad Things Happen to Good People) and Rick Warren (The Purpose-Driven Life) are out. Also gone are the Hadith, and the works of Moses Maimonides.

At the Otisville prison in New York, according to one report, the post-purge Muslim section of the library has been reduced to the Qur’an and two other books. Three-quarters of the Jewish books in the same prison were removed.

As a theological student and someone who spends a great deal of time and energy reading religious books, this first of all hits me at a very visceral level. I’m trying to imagine the pain of visiting the prison chapel library and finding gaping holes in the shelves. And what about the anguish of having a treasured prayer book suddenly removed (as many Muslim prayer books have been)?

On an intellectual/ethical level, this is completely unacceptable. One of my core theological principles is that of soul liberty … the freedom (and responsibility) of each individual to choose what her/his conscience dictates is right, free from the control or coercion of church, government, family, friends or any other outside entity. To restrict access to religious texts is unconscionable from a religio-ethical standpoint because it interferes with the individual’s ability to explore her/his relationship to and understanding of God.
From a constitutional standpoint, this kind of restriction interferes with prisoners’ freedom of religion, of a few rights that they still retain. Further, I would argue that the freedom to read is another core human right that prisoners should retain.

Finally, from a pastoral perspective, faith is an important part of many inmates’ lives. To restrict their access to books that encourage and strengthen their faith is to do tremendous damage. In many libraries, the shelves have been all but emptied by this project (called, btw, the Standardized Chapel Library Project. Incidentally, it’s been going on since MAY). The project did NOT, however, include any funds to help the libraries replenish their collections with approved books. So now many inmates looking for enlightenment, encouragement and solace are faced with gaping holes on the library shelves.

September 12, 2007

The day after ….

Filed under: 9/11,blogging,journalism,media,writing — Liz @ 1:53 pm

Sept. 12, 2001 was a turning point in my life.

Sept 12, 2oo1 was the day that my first issue of The Bison came out. I’d been roped into editing the paper by some well-intentioned professors who thought that, in the absence of a journalism major who could do the job, an English major who could write well would be a suitable substitute. I came on board two days before the second issue of the semester. One day before the paper came out, Sept. 11 happened and I fell head over heels in love with newsprint.

We put the paper to bed that Tuesday and I went over to my parents’ house. They were sitting in the living room watching the news. They had gone out a bought a t.v. that day.

My first-ever editorial ran Wednesday. I remember referencing Don DeLillo’s Mao II. By some immense irony we had discussed the novel — which among other things talks about how terrorism shapes current reality in the same way fiction once did — in class the day before the attacks. I remember saying something about not letting fear take us over. I like to remember myself making some kind of statement calling for a response that didn’t involve war, but I haven’t read that piece in years (I don’t even know if I have it in my files anymore) so I’m not sure if I did or not. (Maybe I’ll take a drive down to Shawnee and visit the archives and pull that issue out.)

Why does this all come to mind now? Is it because I’m back in Oklahoma again, like I was in 2001? Is it because I’m writing again — and will be on a regular basis, the way I was during my tenure as editor? Is it simply because the days of the week coincide? Because we once again had a Tuesday, Sept. 11? And a Wednesday, Sept. 12?

I think that recalling that column is a suitable prologue to this blog. Looking back through the lens of what I have done since then, the columns I wrote as editor of the Bison were my first attempts at theological reflection. At a university where so many people lived according to a theological framework which was rapidly losing relevance for me, I needed a venue to try out all my new thoughts. Without fail I impressed my professors and bored my peers. On occasion I angered the administration, but not nearly as much as I wish I had. Regardless, “99.44” (as my column was called) saved my life that year.

(Editor’s note: Big fancy prize if you figure out what “99.44” refers to).

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