Federal courts have repeatedly affirmed that incarcerated people have a First Amendment right to read, and publishers and others have a right to send them reading materials. Yet nearly two dozen issues of The Militant have been impounded by Florida prisons over the last two years without explanation. While a ban on issue no. 34 was recently overturned, it’s illustrative of how prison officials have abused their power to censor. People For the American Way joined the National Coalition Against Censorship and allied organizations to call on the Florida Department of Corrections to end this practice. You can download our letter here.
Dear Mr. Peterson,
The National Coalition Against Censorship was formed in 1974 to promote freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression. It opposes all forms of censorship. On behalf of our coalition and the associations listed below, we urge you to end the growing number of cases in which The Militant has been impounded without any apparent justifiable cause.
The Militant, which has been published for more than 80 years, has subscribers in state and federal prisons across the United States. Yet nearly two dozen issues of the paper have been impounded by Florida prisons over the last two years without explanation. This is four times as many attempts to block The Militant as occurred in all the other prisons in the country over the last 10 years.
While most of those attempts were blocked, the Florida Literature Review Committee has upheld the impounding of six issues.
The recently overturned ban on issue no. 34 of The Militant is an example of how prison officials have abused their power to censor. They cited as justification an article about opponents of solitary confinement in California and another about the hunger strike by Oleg Sentsov, a Crimean movie director who was imprisoned in Siberia by the Putin regime. They claimed the articles could encourage “riot” or “insurrection” without explaining how.
Federal courts have repeatedly affirmed that prisoners have a First Amendment right to read, and publishers and others have a right to send them reading materials. Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401, 407-08 (1989); King v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 415 F.3d 634, 638 (7th Cir. 2005) (“Freedom of speech is not merely freedom to speak; it is also freedom to read …. Forbid a person to read and you shut him out of the marketplace of ideas and opinions that it is the purpose of the free-speech clause to protect”). While they have restricted those rights in the interest of security, it serves no penological purpose to block the free flow of ideas that makes it possible for prisoners to consider a wide variety of viewpoints in forming their opinions.
We urge you to halt the frequent and unjustified efforts to disrupt the distribution of The Militant, which violate the First Amendment rights of both the publication and the inmates who wish to read it.