SCI-Mahanoy Officers Trample First Amendment Rights
On August 10 and September 13, 2012, my visiting friend, Shireen Parsons, and I posed for photos with our clenched fists raised in the universal hand-sign expressing solidarity in the visiting room at SCI-Mahanoy in Frackville, Pennsylvania. On both occasions we were told that our raised fists were in violation of Visiting Rule No. 5.
On the initial Grievance Review Response No. 427110, dated September 6, 2012, Lieutenant D. Malick responded, stating both Officers Cole and Martin were merely enforcing SCI-Mahanoy rules, adding that, “We offer the privilege of the opportunity to have photos taken in the visiting room for all inmates and visitors. With all privileges, rules are established to continue the privilege.”
The salient point, however, is that the ambiguous Policy No. 5 clearly violates inmates’ and visitors’ right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The institution asserts that the opportunity for inmates and visitors to have photographs taken in the visiting room is a privilege. At issue, however, is that our freedom of speech is not confined to the spoken or written word, but includes symbolic expression as well.
Lt. Malick responded that both Officers Cole and Martin were simply enforcing rules, stating, “We offer the privilege of the opportunity to have photos taken in the visiting room for all inmates and visitors. With all privileges, rules are established to continue the privilege.” Such rules, however may not obviate our First Amendments rights under which speech includes symbolic, nonverbal expression, such as the clenched, raised fist, and Policy No. 5 carries a chilling effect, which, as described by constitutional law, discourages the exercise of a First Amendment right—in this case, the First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
As citizens—incarcerated or free—we must challenge any and all encroachments upon our civil rights. We must raise up our clenched fists in solidarity and outrage over the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ chilling effect on our First Amendment rights, and demand reform and justice.
Legal research references:
See Hudson v. Buckson, 310 F, Supp 528 (D. Del. 1970); Pell v. Procunier, (417 U.S. 817, 1974)(re: “any system of prior restraints of expression comes to this Court bearing a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity.” (Citing): New York Times v. U.S., 403 U.S. 713, 714 (1971).); Turner v. Safely, 482 U.S. 78, (1987)(“...[W]e have found it important to inquire whether regulations restricting inmates’ First Amendment rights operated in a neutral fashion, without regard to the content of expression.” This amendment indeed guarantees the right to express such attitudes toward the government, and it is the strength of our democracy that they are tolerated in almost all their public manifestations. That tolerance (31) F. Supp. 535) is not only a benefit flowing from diligent protection of fundamental freedom; it is a Sine Qua Non of their continued enjoyment.
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