Mehta’s Not Too Friendly to Pierce Prison Religion Info Embargo

July 17, 2013

"Friendly Atheist" blogger Hemant Mehta wasn't too friendly to use the Freedom of Information Act to shake loose bombshell data on the religious affiliations of inmates in the Federal prison system. This pierces (but does not completely shatter) what I believe has been a six-decade embargo by prison administrators to hold back information on how many prisoners are or aren't religious.

In my stump speech "The Demographics of Unbelief" (and a February/March 2012 article based on it, ), I describe a 1961 survey that anti-Catholic ex-priest and radio demagogue Emmett McLoughlin mailed to numerous prisons. (McLoughlin was the Glenn Beck of his era, only formerly Catholic instead of latterly Mormon.) The data he got back showed that atheists were dramatically under-represented -- and Catholics dramatically over-represented -- in prison populations. He got a lot of attention with his survey, but mysteriously no researcher has been able to develop data on prisoner religious affiliation since. For more than a decade, a mysterious "Rod Swift" has claimed to have obtained information from a Federal Bureau of Prisoners researcher indicating that atheists make up just 0.2% of the population, but the provenance of this data has been hugely uncertain.

Well, Hemant wielded a FOIA request and got the latest, unquestionably genuine iteration of this federal data. Hemant's masterful post demands to be read in full, but suffice it to say the number of atheists is even lower now, and now the data is reliable.

Now all we have to do is find a way to persuade the fifty state prison systems to part with their data on inmates' stated religious affiliations.