A group of atheists is taking donations and asking for volunteers to help them in a mission to send stacks of atheism, freethought, science, and other non-religious books to prisons.
Some of the books the group is sending, and requesting, in an Amazon wish list, are direct responses to Christianity, others attempt to explain atheism, others explain some aspects of science that some religious sects prefer to dismiss or deny (evolution, for instance), and some are just fictional novels that offer a different view of religion, like Dougla Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Are inmates disproportionately exposed to religious materials? Well, consider the case of one South Carolina prison, where, until a 2010 lawsuit by the ACLU, prisoners could not receive non-religious literature at all. The lawsuit was settled in 2012, finally allowing prisoners to receive secular materials.
The program was initially launched in 2007 by college student Leslie Zukor, The Blaze reports, and has been revived by the Center For Inquiry, an organization dedicated to “foster[ing] a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.”
A 2012 Pew Research Poll identifies about 10% of inmates as having no religious preference, and 5% not saying, but it is relevant to be aware that expressing a religious preference can be an advantage in a prison in a number of ways. In some prisons, attending religious services is a convenient way to get out of a cell, and there are some religious rights that cannot be denied to a prisoner, such as possession of certain objects, the right to request certain foods, or the right to refuse to work on the Sabbath.
Because of these advantages to claiming a religion, it’s hard to be certain what actual percentages are.
Still, even ten percent of the U.S. prison population is a lot of people, and it’s not only non-believers who can enjoy much of what is being defined here as ‘freethought literature’.
Overall, if it makes things more equal, and gives people something to think about, it’s probably a good thing.