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Seventh Circuit Upholds Ban on Dungeons & Dragons

Seventh Circuit Upholds Ban on Dungeons & Dragons

by Brandon Sample

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) may prohibit the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) role-playing game and D&D-related publications without violating the First Amendment, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit decided on January 25, 2010.

Kevin Singer, a prisoner at Wisconsin’s Waupun Correctional Institution, had been playing D&D since he was a child. Until 2004 he was allowed to play D&D and order and possess D&D-related materials at Waupun; however, that changed after Bruce Muraski, the facility’s Disruptive Group Coordinator, received an anonymous note from another prisoner.

The note claimed that Singer and three other prisoners were trying to form a D&D “gang,” and asked Muraski to check into the matter before it got “out of hand.” Muraski ordered searches of Singer’s and the three other prisoners’ cells. The searches resulted in the confiscation of numerous D&D materials.

Thereafter, Waupun staff banned possession of D&D publications and the playing of all fantasy games. The ban was necessary, according to DOC staff, because games like D&D promote “fantasy role playing, competitive hostility, violence, addictive escape behaviors, and possible gambling.”

Singer sued, arguing that the ban violated the First Amendment. To support his claims he submitted fifteen affidavits – some from other prisoners, some from role-playing game experts – which indicated D&D game play and materials had not led to violence or gang activity in the past, and that fantasy role-playing games in general, including D&D, actually promote rehabilitation.

The district court was not persuaded. The court granted summary judgment to DOC officials, crediting Muraski’s affidavit which said D&D materials and gaming threatened the safety and security of Waupun. Singer appealed.

Despite what the Seventh Circuit described as an “impressive trove of affidavit testimony,” Singer failed to adequately refute the DOC’s asserted safety and security concerns. The question was “not whether D&D had led to gang behavior in the past,” the appellate court wrote. Rather, the question was “whether [] prison officials are rational in their belief that, if left unchecked, D&D could lead to gang behavior among inmates and undermine prison security in the future.”

In that regard, Singer’s affidavits were insufficient to rebut the affidavit testimony of DOC officials, the Seventh Circuit concluded. Most of Singer’s affidavits were from current or former prisoners, individuals whose “experiential ‘expertise’ in prison security is from the wrong side of the bars,” according to the appellate court.

Further, the affidavits Singer produced from role-playing game experts were also insufficient as they failed to “dispute[] or even acknowledge[] the prison officials’ assertions that there are valid reasons to fear” an adverse effect on rehabilitation from D&D game play, the Court of Appeals held.

Finally, the Seventh Circuit noted, Singer could still play other “allowable games” and he had access to other “reading material and leisure activities.” The district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of DOC officials was, accordingly, affirmed. See: Singer v. Raemisch, 593 F.3d 529 (7th Cir. 2010).

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Related legal case

Singer v. Raemisch