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8th Circuit Rules on Nebraska Prison’s Denial of Religious Publication and Jewelry

Petitioner Curtis Eugene Rowland, a prisoner at the Pen Unit of the Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex brought two separate civil rights actions against prison officials in 197l. His § 1983 claim regarding denial of mail was granted; his claim regarding restriction of religious practice was dismissed. Both parties appealed.

The issue under scrutiny with respect to denial of mail was the institution restricting his access to the newspaper Muhammad Speaks, and the religious practice issue was the institution’s refusal to allow him to wear a medallion with Dr. Martin Luther King’s image.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals consolidated the two appeals, Rowland’s appeal of the religious practice issue and the prison official’s appeal of the newspaper issue.

The court held that restriction of the newspaper Muhammad Speaks constituted a prior restraint and was a violation of Rowland’s First Amendment rights. The court did, however, note that its decision did not affect the warden’s right to invoke security measures to screen out possible messages or contraband.

On the medallion issue, the court upheld the discretionary power of prison officials in deciding what jewelry might be dangerous, but noted that the state’s argument that the medallion was not a religious symbol was over-stepping its discretionary powers and authority by attempting to impose a standard of religious orthodoxy. The court of appeals affirmed the district court’s judgment in both causes. See: Rowland v. Jones, 452 F2d 1005, (8th Cir, 1971).

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Related legal case

Rowland v. Jones