Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bureaucratic Snafu

This article from the September 10, 2007 New York Times appears to be the results of two conflicting efforts, both of which are individually sensible, but together produce idiocy, and a violation of freedom of religion:
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.
The first goal--to remove material promoting hatred and extremism--seems perfectly reasonable. In 1940, or 1950, individual prison chaplains would have been told to look over the materials that they had, and use their good judgment to remove such questionable works.

The second goal is the bureaucrats don't want to have to read every book and listen to every audiotape to make a decision about each and every one--so they hired some experts to tell them what to allow:
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.
Maybe it would have been better to produce a set of guidelines, and ask prison chaplains to go through the collections and decide what to remove? Ah, but that would have allowed individual judgment and produced an endless supply of suits by the ACLU, challenging each and every decision (of which about 5% would have been questionable or wrong decisions).

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