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Virginia DOC Settles Censorship Suit Over The Final Call

The Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by a prisoner at Red Onion State Prison over the rejection of numerous issues of The Final Call, a newspaper of the Nation of Islam.

Kelvin Brown sued the VDOC after nearly a year’s worth of issues of The Final Call were rejected as unauthorized by prison staff. Brown was never given a reason for the rejections and was not allowed to appeal to the Publication Review Committee.

Brown alleged that the censorship of The Final Call violated his First Amendment rights and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

This is the third recent case in which the VDOC has either settled or been ordered to change its publication policies. In September 2010, the VDOC agreed to end its ban on Prison Legal News. [See: PLN, Nov. 2010, p.46]. Virginia prison officials were also ordered to let prisoners receive classic literature containing sexually explicit language. The court in that case noted the VDOC allowed prisoners to receive Playboy. [See: PLN, March 2011, p.22].

“The Virginia Department of Corrections has been out of control when it comes to censoring literature coming into the prisons,” said Jeff Fogel, Brown’s attorney. “This problem will not be solved until the Department of Corrections fully realizes that it has no right to impose political or religious orthodoxy.”

The VDOC declined to comment.

Aside from resolving Brown’s censorship claims, the VDOC agreed as part of the November 2010 settlement in his lawsuit to show Nation of Islam DVDs on its closed-circuit television channel at Red Onion State Prison “on a comparable schedule for Christian programming.”

Previously rejected issues of The Final Call will be delivered to Brown, ten at a time. Additionally, the settlement requires that a notice be posted at each VDOC facility notifying prisoners of the availability of previously rejected issues of The Final Call.
Pursuant to the settlement, the VDOC also agreed to pay reasonable attorney’s fees to Fogel, which amounted to $13,654. See: Brown v. Ray, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Va.), Case No. 7:09-cv-00180-pms.

In a similar previous case, in March 2010 a Louisiana federal court held that censorship of The Final Call by prison officials violated both the First Amendment and RLUIPA. [See: PLN, Sept. 2010, p.11].

Additional source: Associated Press

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Related legal case

Brown v. Ray