Court allows state prison system to ban racist books

Prior Restraints | Feature | September 14, 2000

    NMU         CONNECTICUT         Prior Restraints         Sep 14, 2000    

Court allows state prison system to ban racist books

  • A Superior Court Judge ruled that the Department of Corrections may ban racist books in prisons when such books are inflammatory and threaten security, finding that the First Amendment need not protect such books under such circumstances.

Judge Richard Rittenband of the Hartford Superior Court ruled in early September that the Department of Corrections may ban racist literature if it threatens prison security. A prison inmate claimed he had a right to read such books as White Man's Bible and Little White Book.

Officials argued the books were racist hate literature that threatened prison safety and security. John Barletta, the inmate, killed his prison roommate and attacked a prison warden, presumably due to his racist beliefs.

The department emphasized that it did not seek to ban the books for religious reasons, but only because the books raised security concerns. The judge agreed, noting, "The First Amendment is not unlimited. Free speech does not permit one to shout 'fire' in a crowded theater nor does freedom of religion permit a prisoner to receive material that is inflammatory and threatens the security of the correctional institution."

Rittenband had previously ruled prison authorities could not ban the books outright, but rather, were required to redact the objectionable portions. The department asked the judge to reconsider his ruling, arguing it would be impossible to redact the books because the inflammatory material was integral to the text, securely interwoven into their content. The judge agreed and changed the ruling, allowing a complete ban of the books.

(Barletta v. Warden) -- AG


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