Update: The Secret List of Approved Books

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 21, 2007 — 1 Comment

Today’s New York Times has published the leaked lists of approved books for prison chapel libraries. The lists, a part of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ controversial “Standardized Chapel Library Project”, limits approved books in hopes of eliminating works that “discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize.”

“The federal Bureau of Prisons is under pressure from members of Congress and religious groups to reverse its decision to purge the shelves of prison chapel libraries of all religious books and materials that are not on the bureau’s lists of approved resources. Outrage over the bureau’s decision has come from both conservatives and liberals, who say it is inappropriate to limit inmates to a religious reading list determined by the government.”

You can get a PDF of the list for Pagan books, here. Also of interest might be the Yoruba and Native American lists. From a quick read-through it seems like a list that will make Llewellyn happy, a large chunk of the selections are published by them (including several selections by Silver RavenWolf, D.J. Conway, and Ted Andrews among others). Asatru and Heathenry seems to be well-represented with six books by Steve McNallen of the Asatru Folk Assembly, along with works by Galina Krasskova, Mark Puryear, and Swain Wodening.

Some of the selections weren’t surprising, like Margot Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon” and Starhawk’s “The Spiral Dance”, but others, like Edgar Cayce’s “Gems and Stones”, seemed a bit out of place. There is only one book by Aleister Crowley allowed, “The Book of Thoth”, and a few titles that seem aimed at Celtic Reconstructionists (“The Apple Branch”, “The Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology”). But even with 131 book choices, there are several glaring omissions, including an almost complete lack of academic-oriented Pagan books, not a single book on Thelema, and no books by important founding figures like Gerald Gardner or Doreen Valiente.

But no matter how good (or bad) the list as a whole may be (and we still have no idea who composed the list), it still represents a dangerous encroachment on religious liberties, and has been gaining criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.

“The Republican Study Committee, a caucus of some of the most conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives, sent a letter on Wednesday to the bureau’s director, Harley G. Lappin, saying, ‘We must ensure that in America the federal government is not the undue arbiter of what may or may not be read by our citizens’ … Sojourners, a liberal evangelical group based in Washington, sent an alert to its members, who within 48 hours sent the bureau more than 15,000 e-mail messages urging it to scrap the policy. The issue is also a hot topic on conservative Christian talk radio shows.”

But despite the flood of criticisms, the BOP is standing firm and refusing to reconsider its policies. So it looks like changes to this newly restrictive measure will either have to come in the form of legislation from congress, or the class-action lawsuit currently in motion. In the meantime, it looks like the prison system’s “secret chiefs” get to decide which books Pagan prisoners can read.

Jason Pitzl-Waters

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