Monday, September 10, 2007

Chaplaincy makes the Times -- as carrying out a Holy book purge!

Whatever the merits might or might not be of the program described in this front-page New York Times story, it pains me that the first sentence of the story describes chaplains as carrying out a "purge" (of Holy books on the request of federal prison officials).

Being described as "purgers" does not reflect well on the profession.

It seems to me also that this case raises an issue that chaplains face in any setting -- whose interests do we represent? Do we represent the interests of the staff members we see and work with every day? Or, do we represent the interests of the patients (whom we may only see once)? It's easy to say we want to do both, but what happens when these interests are in conflict? And if we do choose to represent the interest of officials (over patients or prisonsers) does that mean we lose the credibility we need in order to get folks to trust us enough to let us into their lives to minister to them?

I first wrote about this in July here.

Prisons Purging Books on Faith From Libraries

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.

September 10, 2007
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