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(FinalCall.com April 2010) – The recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Donald Walter in Shreveport, La., restored rights toÂ The Final CallÂ newspaper to an inmate who was unconstitutionally being denied the paper in the David Wade Correctional Center (DWCC). According to Nation of Islam attorney Ava Muhammad, an appeal by the state of Louisiana is expected and welcomed.
â€œWe fully expect the state of Louisiana to take this up on appeal to the Fifth Circuit (Court of Appeals). We want them to do that because there are facilities all over the country that are denying inmates access to this paper. It is our position that we need to have this matter settled once and for all,â€ said Mrs. Muhammad toÂ The Final Call.
â€œWe think this is an excellent time and decision that offers us the opportunity to force this issue to final resolution,â€ said Mrs. Muhammad, who received her Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University.
The American Civil Liberties Union ofLouisianabacked the lawsuit of inmate Henry Leonard and filed it May 2007, which was a year after he was restricted from receiving copies of the weekly Nation of Islam newspaper. Attorneys representing Louisiana claimed on behalf of prison officials that the reason behind the censorship was newspaper content deemed racially inflammatoryâ€”in particular The Muslim Program, which appears on the inside back page ofÂ The Final Call.
â€œThey requested an expert testimony from the Nation of Islam to explain The Muslim Program in April 2009. The Honorable Minister Farrakhan gave me that assignment. He asked me to take the deposition, be questioned by the attorney from the state of Louisiana and to explain The Muslim Program,â€ said Mrs. Muhammad.
The deposition presented by Mrs. Muhammad in April 2009 took place in Chicago on the grounds of Mosque Maryam, the headquarters of the Nation of Islam. Her deposition was nearly 200 pages and she went point by point through The Muslim Program.
â€œThey actually wanted to focus on Point No. 4 of What The Muslims Want and to lift that out as being racially inflammatory. I gave a very in-depth explanation and educated them so that they could rise to an understanding that separationâ€”contrary to the idea that this is a racist conceptâ€”is actually as the Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches, the best solution and a peaceful solution,â€ she argued.
Mr. Leonard, who is a former Baton Rouge police officer, was convicted of murdering his estranged wife’s boyfriend. He has been a practicing member of the Nation since 1985. According to Mrs. Muhammad, the court also questioned whether it would be sufficient for Mr. Leonard to just sit in on services conducted in the prison by an imam under the late Imam Warith Deen Muhammad, instead of receivingÂ The Final Call.
â€œWe objected that on the grounds of Point No. 12 of What The Muslims Believe. That distinguishes us from other Muslims and it does not make us any less than Muslim. We adhere to the principles of the Holy Qur’an. However, absent that cardinal principle (Point No. 12), we cannot follow our faith. That is the core principle of being a follower of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad under the direction of Minister Louis Farrakhan,â€ said Mrs. Muhammad.
Mrs. Muhammad further explained toÂ The Final CallÂ that â€œthe imam, whose deposition was taken, actually referred to that point as blasphemy. This led the court to the conclusion that there is no substitute for our material.â€
On March 31, Judge Donald Walter ruled in favor of the plaintiff on the basis that the prison officials could not deliver any evidence thatÂ The Final CallÂ newspaper was the source of any violence. â€œAgain, this Court is concerned that the complete banning of the publication because of the inclusion of â€œThe Muslim Programâ€ is an exaggerated response to DWCC’s concern about racially inflammatory material,â€ Judge Walter wrote in his 21-page ruling.
â€œI was so ecstatic about this decision and my eyes welled. This case was very dear to me and we put in a lot of hours,â€ said Katie Schwartzmann toÂ The Final Call. As the Louisiana ACLU’s legal director, she spearheaded the lawsuit.
â€œWhen I first received a letter from Mr. Leonard in 2006, it immediately got my attention. He filed grievances but was denied. So we decided to file this lawsuit because it became obvious that this was discrimination towards the Nation of Islam,â€ said Ms. Schwartmann, who studied law at Tulane University. [Read Full Story]