Home » News » Ind. prison cleared in removal of inmate as library clerk for being part of ‘sovereign citizen’ movement

By David L. Hudson Jr., published on February 8, 2022

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Indiana prison officials did not violate the First Amendment rights of an inmate when they removed him from his clerk job at the prison’s law library, a state appeals court has ruled. The appeals court said the prison could remove the inmate because he was a member of the “sovereign citizen” movement.

 

Warren Parks, an inmate at the Putnamville Correctional Facility, was assigned to work as a clerk in the facility’s law library in August 2020. But prison officials removed him from this position when they learned that he was a member of the sovereign-citizen movement.

 

The sovereign-citizen movement, though loosely organized, consists of individuals who generally reject the authority of government officials. Indiana prison officials considered the group to be a security threat group, or STG.

 

After first filing a prison grievance, Parks sued in state court in May 2021, alleging that he was removed from his clerk position because of his constitutionally protected views as part of the sovereign-citizen movement.

 

The Putnam Superior Court dismissed Parks’ complaint. He appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals, which also ruled against him in its Feb. 1, 2022, decision in Parks v. State.

 

The appeals court focused on the fact that the sovereign-citizen movement was considered an STG. The Indiana court of appeals also cited a federal decision from Indiana that allowed prison officials to remove inmates from an apprentice program when those inmates were members of an STG.

 

“As an STG, the sovereign citizen movement is a prison gang, and, as such, it threatens the safety and stability within the prison,” the appeals court wrote. “Consequently, Parks’ association with such movement is not protected activity under the First Amendment.”

 

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David L. Hudson Jr. is a professor at Belmont University College of Law who writes and speaks regularly on First Amendment issues. He is the author of Let the Students Speak: A History of the Fight for Free Expression in American Schools (Beacon Press, 2011), and of First Amendment: Freedom of Speech (2012). Hudson is also the author of a 12-part lecture series, Freedom of Speech: Understanding the First Amendment (2018), and a 24-part lecture series, The American Constitution 101 (2019).

 

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