Kevin Halfmann, an inmate in the Centralia Correctional Center in Illinois, is serving time for predatory criminal sexual assault. He is a Satanist — the kind of Satanist who is an atheist following the philosophies laid out in books such as Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible. Recently, he asked to be able to have a copy of the book while he’s in jail.
A judge said no.
In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that prisoners must be allowed access to religious activities and texts, as long as they don’t disrupt order within the prison. Unfortunately, the Satanic Bible has been verboten in Illinois jails for more than 20 years, supposedly because it “has a potential to incite hatred and violence.”
You can, certainly, find places in the Satanic Bible that encourage, say, revenge. But you can also find passages in the Koran and the Christian Bible which can be interpreted to “incite hatred and violence,” too. Certainly more Christians have been responsible for hatred and violence — in the name of their holy book — than members of any other faith. Any federally funded institution caught banning these texts would find itself in serious legal hot water. So why is the Satanic Bible different?
The news on Halfmann’s request comes just as Wild Hunt blogger Jason Pitzl-Waters addresses the specter of Christian privilege. At a time when they are more powerful than ever, many Christians are behaving as though they are part of a persecuted minority.
… you see the valorizing of the very early Christian period, heavy on references to persecution for their faith (and the glossing over of the era when the empire was Christianized). In countless Christian sermons and documentaries that period is returned to time and time again. Instead of being used as a reminder to not abuse power, and to not let any minority be persecuted, this narrative has instead mutated for some Christians into a paranoia about a returning “pagan” persecution that they must constantly battle and guard against.
Unfortunately, this practice creates a number of problems. It keeps the focus on Christians, who already have more control than any single religion ought to have in a society with (in theory) full religious freedom. Worse, it delegitimizes real claims of religious persecution and discrimination experienced by those in minority faiths.
Only in a society where some religions are favored over others could a judge — whose salary is paid by the people — tell a member of one faith that he cannot have access to his holy text, when access to such texts while imprisoned is otherwise protected by law.
I seriously hope Halfmann has the resources to appeal his case.
Readers, what do you think? Should inmates have ready access to religious and philosophical texts that are core to their faiths and practices? Why or why not?