Muslim Inmates Sue Over Combined Faith Services in Arkansas Prisons

Layers of razor wire surround a prison. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Muslim prisoners in Arkansas have sued the state’s prison system for requiring them to attend a combined Friday prayer service with members of the Nation of Islam and Nation of Gods and Earths.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights advocacy group, filed the lawsuitMar. 1 against the Arkansas Department of Correction on behalf of Tucker Maximum Security Unit inmates Gregory Houston Holt, Rodney Martin, and Wayde Stewart.

Though the three groups, which overlap in their histories and theology, follow distinct religious teachings, the Arkansas Department of Correction requires followers of Islam, the Nation of Islam, and the Nation of Gods and Earths who want to worship to attend a single prayer service.

“Religious freedom protects everyone’s ability to worship with those who share their faith,” CAIR National Litigation Director Lena Masri said in a statement. “Followers of Islam, Nation of Islam and the Nation of Gods and Earths should be permitted to worship separately in a manner of their choice, just as Arkansas currently offers such accommodations for Catholic, Baptist, Jewish and Buddhist worship services.”

The Nation of Islam, founded as an African-American Muslim movement by Wallace Fard Muhammad in 1930, combines elements of traditional Islamic teachings with black nationalist ideas and is now led by Louis Farrakhan. It’s estimated to have about 100,000 U.S. adherents. The Nation of Gods and Earths, also known as the Five-Percent Nation or the Five Percenters, split from the Nation of Islam in 1963 and has fewer than 50,000 followers.

Muslim inmates say that attending Friday prayer services with other Muslims is a mandate of their faith. The Arkansas prison system policy requires that Muslims attend the combined Friday prayer services or risk losing their designation as Muslims — which could cause them to lose religious accommodations such as a specialized Ramadan meal program.

CAIR claims that when Holt stopped going to the prison’s combined Friday services in protest, his other Islamic accommodations were taken away.

The suit, filed in federal court in Little Rock, claims that Arkansas has violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

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Source: Religion News Service