The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 78/No. 24      June 23, 2014

‘Militant’ appeals issue
ban at Colo. federal prison
(front page)
The Militant is challenging a decision by the warden at the U.S. Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, to deny an issue of the paper to a subscriber incarcerated there — the first time federal prison authorities have openly sought to interfere with delivery of the socialist newsweekly.

On May 19, the Militant received a notification from the warden dated Feb. 7, along with the rejected Dec. 30 issue to subscriber Jeremy Valerio. The notice said “this publication is deemed inappropriate for the orderly running of the institution due to it containing articles pertaining to Revolutionary Communist Party in the USA and the need to overthrow the system.”

On June 12, Attorney David Goldstein, of the firm Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman, filed an administrative appeal with Paul Laird, regional director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Kansas City, Kansas, demanding the ban be reversed on the basis that it not only violated the First Amendment rights of both Valerio and the Militant, rights that protect free speech and freedom of the press, but contravened the Bureau of Prisons’ own rules.

According to prison regulations, “the Warden may reject a publication only if it is determined detrimental to the security, good order, or the discipline of the institution or if it might facilitate criminal activity.”

The appeal pointed out that the warden is not only required to provide reasons why a publication fits this criteria, but, according to the same regulations, “may not reject a publication solely because its content is religious, philosophical, political, social or sexual, or because its content is unpopular or repugnant.” Furthermore, the warden must indicate “specific article(s) or material(s) considered objectionable.” But the notice neither gave a coherent reason nor made reference to any articles.

As it happens, nowhere in the banned issue is there any reference to the Revolutionary Communist Party. “But if there were,” said Militant editor Doug Nelson, “on what basis can prison authorities ban a paper because it reports on some organization — be it the Republican Party, al-Qaeda, or anyone else? I find it hard to believe they would ban the New York Times or the Daily News if they wrote about the Revolutionary Communist Party.

“The Militant has no affiliation to the Revolutionary Communist Party or its paper Revolution,” said Nelson. “There may be some confusion there. The fact is, Revolution and other papers like Prison Legal News, The Bay View and Prison Focus, have had to fight their own battles against censorship. And we support all these fights.”

Over the last year, the Militant has won administrative appeals against similar attempts to censor the paper in state penal facilities in Washington state and Florida. But, as the appeal pointed out, “the Militant has been delivered to inmates in the Federal prison system at least since the 1950’s, and to our knowledge, no Federal prison has ever refused delivery of any issue of The Militant to any inmate.”

“This appeal is part of a broader fight the Militant has joined with other publications and organizations to defend the free-speech rights of prisoners and the press,” said Nelson. “When rights of workers behind bars are under attack, the rights of all working people are under attack and must be answered.

“We’ve found prison authorities are doing this kind of thing more and more,” Nelson continued. “Whatever the reason, I think they’re misjudging the situation. The political climate today is one of widespread sympathy for the rights of prisoners and their fights for dignity.”

That the warden “believed that unidentified articles ‘pertained’ to ‘the need to overthrow the system,’ without any explanation as to what he might have been referring to … is insufficient,” the appeal said. “Further, banning the issue because of mere advocacy, discussion or reporting of a political viewpoint, including that of the desirability of ‘overthrow[ing] the system,’ whatever that inherently vague phrase might mean … could not satisfy constitutional requirements.”

“Like the reference to the Revolutionary Communist Party, I don’t know what the warden is referring to,” said Nelson. “The paper doesn’t advocate violence. We speak to the working class and society at-large on the need for revolutionary change, to replace the dog-eat-dog system of capitalism with socialism. We’re open about our program, aims and goals. Workers in and outside prison walls are open to what we have to say. And we’re going to keep saying it.”

The appeal notes that the Supreme Court in 1989 ruled that “publishers who wish to communicate with those who, through subscription, willingly seek their point of view have a legitimate First Amendment interest in access to prisoners.”

“We hope and expect that all issues of The Militant are being delivered to all subscribing inmates at the Florence, Colorado, facility,” the appeal says, “as well as all other Federal prisons.”

The Militant has 98 subscribers at about 50 federal and state penal facilities in the U.S., with 15 of them in federal prisons. At the time Valerio was denied his issue he was one of two subscribers in Florence. Now there are three.

“The subscriber base among workers behind bars keeps growing,” said Nelson. “We’re proud of that.”

Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home