The secular group Center For Inquiry says it has received much support after announcing its newest initiative to send "freethought" books to prisoners as an alternative to faith-based outreach.
CFI identified publishing companies Beacon Press and Pitchstone Publishing as among the first to show their support for the initiative, which was announced in December, and a number of authors have already sent their atheist-themed books to help out.
"Religious fundamentalism can leave people morally disempowered and psychologically traumatized. Outside of prison settings, former believers, sometimes called 'Reclaimers,' are finding each other –getting support and information that allows them to heal and to recognize that they don't have to depend on gods to make positive, life affirming choices. I believe that prisoners deserve the same opportunity," said Valerie Tarico, author of Trusting Doubt, who sent 20 copies of her book for the project.
The group said that it has received requests for books from 45 individuals in prison so far, and made it their goal to send shipments out before the holidays last year, noting that that time of year "must be an especially tough time to be in prison."
Project Coordinator Sarah Kaiser said prisoners want to read books "based in rationality, science, and skepticism-not religious dogma."
"By providing books, as well as connections through the pen pal network, we offer prisoners much-needed ties to the outside world and open minds to the wonders of science and critical thinking," Kaiser added.
The aim of Freethought Books Project, originally started in 2007 by a student at Reed College in Oregon, is to "counteract the pernicious and overwhelming influence of religious proselytizing to which they are so often subjected."
A number of faith-based ministries have reached out to prisoners over the years to offer them hope and fellowship, both in the U.S. and around the world. Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship ministry operates in 1,300 correctional facilities in all 50 U.S. states, and reaches prisoners and their families in 110 other countries.
The late Colson, who served in former President Richard Nixon's administration but spent some time in prison for his involvement in the Watergate scandal in 1973, became a born-again Christian and devoted his life to helping other prisoners transform their lives through Christ and launched the nonprofit Prison Fellowship.
Colson received the Presidential Citizens Medal from former President George W. Bush in 2008 for his outreach to prisoners, ex-convicts, crime victims and their families
"Through his (Colson) strong faith and leadership, he has helped courageous men and women from around the world make successful transitions back into society," the White House said in a statement. "The United States honors Chuck Colson for his good heart and his compassionate efforts to renew a spirit of purpose in the lives of countless individuals."
Colson died at the age of 80 in April 2012.