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CAIR Sues Arkansas Prison System for Refusing to Provide Islamic Religious Services

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 3/1/2019) — The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today announced the filing of a lawsuit challenging the Arkansas Department of Correction’s (ADC) forced combination of religious services for Islam, the Nation of Islam, and the Nation of Gods and Earths. 

[NOTE: Nation of Gods and Earths is sometimes referred to as Five-Percent Nation or the Five Percenters.]

The CAIR Legal Defense Fund, joined by Professor Douglas Laycock of the University of Texas at Austin, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Gregory Houston Holt a/k/a Abdul Maalik Muhammad. 

Holt, joined in the suit by Muslim inmates Rodney Martin and Wayde Stewart, believes that attending Friday prayer services alongside and led by other adherents of Islam is a spiritual requirement. The current ADC policy, which forces adherents of Islam, the Nation of Islam, and Nation of Gods and Earths to attend a combined religious service, does not meet that requirement because the three groups represent different religious groups with distinct beliefs and practices.

The suit alleges that Arkansas’s combined services policy violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

Under ADC policy, Muslims risk losing their designation as Muslim if they skip or refuse to attend the combined Friday prayer services. Losing that designation in turn threatens the loss of their other religious accommodations, including meals during Ramadan.


“Religious freedom protects everyone’s ability to worship with those who share their faith,” said CAIR National Litigation Director Lena Masri. “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.”

She noted that Holt previously prevailed 9-0 before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case which required Arkansas to permit Holt to grow a beard, in accordance with his sincerely-held Islamic beliefs.

SEE: Holt v. Hobbs Supreme Court Case

“Mr. Muhammad won the right to practice his Muslim faith in Arkansas prisons four years ago, and should win again here,” said Professor Douglas Laycock, who argued Holt’s earlier case before the U.S. Supreme Court.  “The Arkansas Department of Correction needs to join the Federal Bureau of Prisons and several large state prison systems in recognizing that Islam and the Nation of Islam are completely different faith traditions.” The suit also asks for the Nation of Gods and Earths to be recognized as a separate faith.

“It is unacceptable that Arkansas thinks it may define who is a Muslim based on whether or not they attend Friday services, all while refusing to provide spiritually-valid Friday services,” said CAIR National Trial Attorney Carolyn Homer. “No one checks how often Christians in the facilities attend Sunday services before letting them celebrate Christmas.”

This case is the latest in a series of lawsuits CAIR has brought to defend the rights of inmates to practice their faith inside jails and prisons across the country.  Last, year, CAIR filed lawsuits on behalf of Muslim inmates in Alaska and Washington state. 

SEE: Judge Orders Alaska Prison to Stop Serving Pork Products to Muslim Inmates

CAIR Press Release: Judge Orders Prison to Stop Starving Fasting Muslim Inmates

CAIR is also suing jail officials in Virginia and Maryland who have systematically disfavored Muslim inmates while conferring privileges on inmates of other faiths.

SEE: The Appeal: Virginia Jail Accused of Favoring Christians who Agree to Live in ‘God Pod’

CAIR Welcomes Federal Court’s Decision to Allow Suit Challenging Maryland Islam-Specific Prison Policy to Move Forward

The Washington-based civil rights organization offers an educational toolkit, called “A Correctional Institution’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices,” to help correctional officers and administrators gain a better understanding of Islam and Muslims.

SEE: A Correctional Institution’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices

CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.

La misión de CAIR es proteger las libertades civiles, mejorar la comprensión del Islam, promover la justicia, y empoderar a los musulmanes en los Estados Unidos.

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CONTACT: CAIR Senior Litigation Attorney Gadeir Abbas, 720-251-0425,; CAIR National Litigation Director Lena Masri, 202-742-6420,; CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-744-7726,



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