Kevin Harris‘ religion deserves brickbats and derision, as well as all the rights to which the Constitution entitles him.
He is a member of the Nation of Gods and Earths, an offshoot of the Nation of Islam more commonly known as the Five Percenters, which was founded in New York in the 1960s. The group promotes black empowerment and teaches that black men are Gods. …
The Nation of Gods and Earths teaches that only 5 percent of the population knows and teaches the truth. Ten percent conspire to hide the truth, are devils and enslave the poor. The rest, 85 percent, have not yet received knowledge. Its philosophy has been included in the lyrics of hip-hop music by such artists as Busta Rhymes and Wu Tang Clan.
Harris, who is behind bars for a 1993 murder, alleges in a new lawsuit that, in 2013, prison officials confiscated religious literature “necessary to the practice of my religion” from his cell. His pleas to get the “contraband” texts back have fallen on deaf ears.
According to court papers, the state [Connecticut] has classified the Nation of Gods and Earths as a “Disruptive Group,” similar to a prison gang or racial supremacist group.
“This is theological persecution, cut and dry,” said Born King Allah, the executive director of a group called the National Office of Cultural Affairs and managing editor of the Five Percenter Newspaper. “It strikes me un-American that a Department of Corrections has the authority to deny someone their inalienable right to a God of their own understanding.”
Born King Allah. You don’t say!
But Harris and his fellow Five Percenter are right, it seems to me. Constitutionally, the government must make reasonable accommodations for the exercise of sincere religious beliefs. If that goes for growing a religion-inspired beard (and it does), the principle applies even more strongly and straightforwardly to the freedom to read one’s preferred religious literature.
According to ABC News,
The Five Percenters have been treated as a security threat in several prison systems because of their racial views, and court rulings on the issue have been mixed. A federal judge in Michigan found in 2009 that while prison security is a “compelling state interest,” he found no evidence that Nation of Gods and Earths advocates violence and ruled its literature should be allowed in prisons. But a federal judge in Virginia last year ruled that the Five Percenters act as a gang in that state’s prisons and can be treated as one.
Federal judges may not be unanimously on the same page about this, but surely Supreme Court Justices are.
P.S.: See also a related story in Monday’s Chicago Tribune: How Fringe Religions Find Followers Behind Bars.
(Image via Shutterstock)