CFI Supports Prisoners with the Freethought Books Project

December 9, 2013

freethought books project initiative CFI logo

Started in 2005, the Freethought Books Project was created by Leslie Zukor, then a student at Reed College and founder of Reed Secular Alliance, as a book drive to send freethought books—books concerning skepticism, atheism, and the critical examination of religion—to prisoners. The project was, as it continues to be, a response to the abundant religious material and proselytizing found in the American prison system, and aims to provide an educational alternative for secular humanist, non-religious, and skeptical prisoners.

The project was independently run and funded by Leslie and her fellow coordinators until 2013, when she asked if the Center for Inquiry would take over.

We’re proud to announce that the Freethought Books Project is now part of CFI.

Why send books to freethinking prisoners?
Prison can be a lonely place for a freethinker. Many prisoners who have written to us express relief just at the fact that the Freethought Books Project exists. These individuals want access to books and ideas based in rationality, science, and skepticism—not religious dogma. 

Here’s what one individual said about the project:

I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to receive your kind package containing a number of freethought books. It is also important for you to know how extremely valuable your service is to people in my situation, for currently you represent the only source of distribution for such material. And for that you deserve much praise. You most certainly have found a gaping niche and are filling it admirably.

Although other programs exist that send books to prisoners, the Freethought Books Project is the only one focusing exclusively on sending secular and skeptical materials. 

How does the Freethought Books Project work?
We provide two main services—free books, and a pen pal program.

The pen pal program is currently operated via existing CFI branches. CFI–Northeast Ohio, CFI–Portland, and CFI–Western New York are coordinating volunteers who will be paired with pen pals. If you’re interested in getting involved, email freethoughtbooks@centerforinquiry.net so we can connect you with a coordinator.

The books program is our primary service. Prisoners are invited to request books by mail, including specific books of interest to them. We solicit donations from publishers and individuals, and send books relevant to their interests.

How can you support the project?

  • Our greatest need is books! You can purchase books from a dedicated Amazon Wish List and they will be sent directly to CFI.

  • Do you have freethought books to donate? Email freethoughtbooks@centerforinquiry.net, or call 716-636-4869 ext. 423, and we’ll help determine the best way to ship them. 

    Updates will be posted to the CFI Facebook page and Twitter feed. You can also visit the project web page at freethoughtbooks.org. Here are a few final words about the project’s importance:

    “I thank you again for your infusion of sense into an environment that is, at best, utterly nonsensical. It is heartening to see an alternative point of view represented in such a place and the books you’ve sent will be read and re-read many times over, so once again—many thanks.”

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The Center for
Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization
headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C.
It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for
Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on
science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI’s web address is www.centerforinquiry.net.