The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday denied a prison inmate’s motion for a summary judgment after he said he was denied access to certain religious materials, sending the case back to Jefferson County District Judge Jodi Raines Dennis to hold a hearing on a motion to prevent prison officials from withholding the material.
Malik Muntaqim, 46, formerly known as Frederick Earl Phillips, is currently serving a sentence at the Ouachita River Unit and says he is a member of the Nation of Islam (NOI), an alternative branch of Islam. He said the literature being developed by the ministers of NOI is essential to the practice of his faith. The NOI publishes a weekly periodical called “The Final Call” that he alleges is the primary way that members of NOI receive religious instruction.
According to the Arkansas Department of Correction website, Muntaqim was convicted as an habitual offender for 13 separate offenses dating from 1995 including theft by receiving, fleeing, breaking or entering, burglary, aggravated robbery and theft of property and will be eligible to apply for parole in 2022.
In April 2015, Muntaqim filed a complaint against 22 Department of Correction employees alleging that they violated his rights. He attached 13 grievances from the Ouachita, Cummins and Varner units to support his claims. In the complaint, he alleged that the department violated his rights when he was denied access to “The Final Call,” and that the department failed to follow its policies regarding publication reviews. He also alleged that the department retaliated against him because of his filing of the grievances.
In July, he filed a motion for summary judgment and a preliminary injunction to prevent the department from violating his rights.
Dennis denied that motion in July without holding a hearing, saying that granting an injunction would “alter the status quo between the parties, and Muntaqim had not demonstrated that he could succeed on the merits of the complaint.”
While Supreme Court Associate Justice Shawn Womack said in the opinion that a hearing on the issuance of a preliminary injunction is not necessary in every case, “The appellant in this case has raised allegations which, if proven correct, could constitute substantial violations of religious liberty rights under the First Amendment.”
Womack said that Muntaqim claimed he was denied certain materials that are required for him to practice his faith, and that the policies of the Department of Correction prohibits him from conducting NOI services that conform with that faith.
He said that Dennis denied Muntaqim’s motion based on the documents she had and did not hold a hearing into the merits of the complaint.
“Based on the records before us, we are convinced that it was an abuse of the court’s discretion to not hold a hearing on the appellant;s motion,” Womack said in in the ruling.
He went on to say that the ruling Thursday was based only on the circumstances presented in this case, and the court was not saying that a hearing must be held in every case.
“We are satisfied that an abuse of discretion occurred when the allegations could constitute irreparable harm to the appellant’s religious liberties, and the allegations arise from disputed facts which could change the outcome of the injunction,” Womack said in the ruling.