(CN) - Virginia state prisons may be required to recognize the Nation of Gods and Earth, a splinter group of the Nation of Islam, as a religion, a federal judge ruled.
Infinite Allah, a state prisoner, sued the Virginia Department of Corrections for denying recognition to his religious group, the Nation of Gods and Earths.
The Nation of Gods and Earths (NGE), also called the Five-Percent Nation, is a splinter group formed by Clarence 13X, a former student of Malcolm X and member of the Nation of Islam.
Unlike the Nation of Islam, the Nation of Gods and Earths is not permitted to hold religious services or distribute literature in Virginia's prisons because it is not recognized as a religion by the state.
Allah says he has been "placed in the untenable position of having to make a choice between participating in religious activities or incurring disciplinary action."
U.S. District Judge James Jones denied the state's motion for summary judgment Friday, finding that numerous disputes regarding whether the Nation of Gods and Earth is a gang and/or a threat to prison security, especially given its teaching of black superiority.
"The plaintiff has raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether his religious exercise has been substantially burdened, even if NGE does not constitute an institutional religion or if other professed members of NGE engage in gang activity," Jones said.
While several prison officials submitted affidavits as to NGE's gang activity, they "did not give the dates and times of the alleged NGE incidents, or explain why the restrictions are still necessary in the absence of NGE incidents."
Allah disputes these testimonies, claiming that there has been no gang activity related to the Nation of Gods and Earth since 2002.
"The fact that security issues are a special concern does not mean that a grant of summary judgment is warranted in this case. Rather, the Fourth Circuit has stated that 'a court should not rubber stamp or mechanically accept the judgments of prison administrators' when assessing whether a prison is engaging in the least restrictive means of furthering security," Jones said. "In this case, even though the Commonwealth has cited security concerns for its decisions regarding NGE, there are genuine disputes of material fact such that summary judgment is not warranted."
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