SHREVEPORT, LA -- The ACLU of Louisiana has sponsored a lawsuit today against the Department of Corrections on behalf of a David Wade Correctional Center (DWCC) Nation of Islam inmate who has been denied access to religious materials.
"Inmates who practice a belief other than Christianity often have their religious liberty rights dishonored by prison officials despite the requirement for neutrality and accommodation," said Joe Cook, Executive Director, ACLU of Louisiana. "Unless the free exercise of religion poses a safety or security risk, the state cannot interfere with the private practices of an inmate."
Henry Leonard has been a member of the Nation of Islam since 1985. He needs religious reading materials in order to maintain and expand upon his religious faith and belief. Until May 9, 2006, he had not encountered any difficulty in obtaining Nation of Islam publications. Then, about one week later, officials at DWCC denied Mr. Leonard access to and receipt of The Final Call newspaper published by the Nation of Islam.
Subsequently, he has been unable to obtain books and other material from the Nation of Islam. Leonard followed the procedure to protest the denial of access. DWCC, however, claimed that the Final Call 'could promote the breakdown of order through inmate disruption, such as strikes or riots or instigation of inmate unrest for racial or other reasons.'
"There is no evidence to support the state's position that Nation of Islam materials are a threat to the security of the prison," said Nelson Cameron, Cooperating Attorney, ACLU of Louisiana. "The prison has not identified any particular concerns it has about specific passages or text, and, absent such a showing, it violates the Constitution to deny someone the right to practice his religion."
Cooperating Attorney Nelson Cameron and Staff Attorney Katie Schwartzmann represent Mr. Leonard.
Since 1920 the American Civil Liberties Union has served as the foremost defender of individual freedom for all. That includes keeping the government neutral in matters related to religion, so everyone may worship as they please.