Illinois has a law, The Re-Entering Citizens Civics Education Act (“the Act”), 730 ILCS 200/1,  seq.,  that requires the Illinois Department Of Corrections (IDOC)to provide programs led by peer educators to educate other incarcerated individuals about their voting rights within 12 months of their projected release date. The primary goals of the Act are to inform incarcerated individuals leaving IDOC about their voter eligibility during their release process and how voting is vital to successful re-entry.

The Act requires the classes to broadly focus on teaching incarcerated individuals why voting matters; about elections, forms of government, and various elected positions; instructions on how to register to vote and how to fill out standard sample ballots; and on the history and importance of voting. The Act requires that the curriculum is peer-led by an incarcerated individual who undergoes specialized training to teach the class. The specialized training is done by either an experienced peer educator or an established nonpartisan civic organization that provides adequate training on matters including, but not limited to, voting rights, governmental institutions, current affairs, and simulations of voter registration, election, and democratic processes.

The civics class curriculum, based on the Act, specifically highlights topics such as a brief history of voting rights in the U.S., felony disenfranchisement, voting in midterm elections, the Jim Crow era, no taxation without representation, political parties, election day, branches & levels of government, and the elections calendar. This sounds great and something we need in AZ.

An inmate, Mr. McNeal, volunteered to teach the civics class as a peer educator shortly after the law went into effect. He first taught the class at Pontiac Correctional Center beginning in 2019 after completing the appropriate required training in accordance with the Act. When Mr. McNeal was transferred to Centralia Correctional Center in February 2022, Mr. McNeal discovered that Centralia did not offer a civics class as required by law. He volunteered to teach the class and began teaching at Centralia in April 2022 as the peer educator.

On March 1, 2023, the day’s curriculum included discussion of poll taxes, literacy tests and other Jim Crow laws. During class, one of the student-inmates asked Mr. McNeal a question about the Jim Crow laws. Mr. McNeal described the use of poll taxes and literacy tests as a means to suppress the Black vote.

Nathan Tucker, a counselor employed by the IDOC, assigned to monitor the class, cut off Mr. McNeal and instructed him not to discuss racism in the class. Defendant Tucker insisted that Mr. McNeal present literacy test as having a “legitimate nondiscriminatory purpose of ensuring that voters ‘knew what they were voting for.'”

McNeal pointed out that the racial intent of these laws was part of the curriculum and was part of what he was supposed to be teaching according to the Act. Still, Tucker demanded McNeal’s notes at the end of the class. McNeal refused and the papers were confiscated by an officer. The prison disciplined McNeal for insolence and disobeying a direct order, found him guilty and prohibited him from teaching the class – which left no teacher at all.

The Uptown People’s Law Center in Chicago filed a lawsuit in February 2024 based on the First Amendment and racial discrimination. On March 7, the federal judge ordered the defendants to file a response.

Not only are the fascists trying to prohibit teaching accurate history, but they are trying to teach a lie.  And not only teach a lie but force a Black person to teach a lie about Black history. It seems there is no bottom to how low these people can sink.