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Saperstein: I urge the Bureau of Prisons to publish the standards being used in the Standardized Chapel Library Project, as well as the names of those religious leaders with whom it is consulting.
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Washington DC: September 11, 2007- Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, today called on Harley G. Lapin, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, to “publish the standards being used in the Standardized Chapel Library Project, as well as the names of those religious leaders with whom it is consulting.” According to recent press reports, under the auspices of that project, hundreds of religious texts are being removed from federal prisons.
The full text of the letter follows:
Dear Director Lappin:
I write on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), encompassing over 900 congregations across North America, including 1.5 million ReformJews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), whose membership includes more than 1,800 Reform Rabbis to seek additional information concerning the Standardized Chapel Library Project.
Recent press reports, including a front page story in yesterday’s New York Times, raise a raft of complicated constitutional issues. We recognize, of course, that there may be more to the BOP’s actions than the press reports indicate, and are, therefore, writing to seek further information.
Although we certainly recognize the need to maintain order within our nation’s prisons, it appears from the press reports that in pursuit of that legitimate goal the Bureau has greatly, and unnecessarily, reduced prisoner’s access to religious texts. The inability of the prisoners to have access to their choice of religious literature may inhibit their ability to exercise their rights to freely practice their religions.
The restrictions and/or guidelines that have been dictating what religious literature is available to prisoners have been publicized, but do not seem to be published. I urge the Bureau of Prisons to publish the standards being used in the Standardized Chapel Library Project, as well as the names of those religious leaders with whom it is consulting. In a country that values discourse and democracy, rules with such a wide-spread impact should be subject to public scrutiny.
I encourage the Bureau to submit their restrictions and/or guidelines for public review before continuing to follow them and to contemplate whether or not continuing the Standardized Chapel Library Project truly respects the rights of federal prisoners.
I look forward to your reply.
Rabbi David Saperstein