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Fifth Circuit: Louisiana Prisons Can't Ban Nation of Islam Newspaper

In 2005, Louisiana prison officials instituted a statewide ban on "The Final Call, a newspaper published by the Nation of Islam. The ban was based solely on the content of a statement of beliefs called "The Muslim Program" located on the last page of each edition of the newspaper. However, the Fifth Circuit court of appeals recently held that objectionable language in "The Muslim Program" could not justify a ban of the newspaper.

With the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, Henry Leonard, a Louisiana state prisoner, filed a federal civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 challenging the ban at the David Wade Correctional Center. The district court held that the ban was an exaggerated response to security concerns since prison officials had been unable to show that any violent acts had been linked to "The Final Call". Therefore, the court held that the prison could not restrict or censor Leonard's access to the newspaper. Prison officials appealed.

On November 10, 2011, the Fifth Circuit issued an opinion agreeing with the district court's reasoning. "While we do not agree that 'The Muslim Program' is free of racially inflammatory language, the record here does not justify this order [banning the newspaper] under circumstances where an objectionable page could be deleted and where this page has been included in all prior issues of the newspaper and is and always has been available to appellee." The district court's judgment was affirmed. The ACLU filed another, similar challenge to the ban for a prisoner at Angola in 2009. The Fifth Circuit opinion should ensure that he too wins his suit. See: Leonard v. State of Louisiana, 5th Cir., No. 10-30982.

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Related legal case

Leonard v. State of Louisiana