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Arkansas Supreme Court: Religious Freedom Preliminary Injunction Requires Hearing

The Arkansas Supreme Court held on March 16, 2017 that a lower court abused its discretion by denying a prisoner’s motion for a preliminary injunction without holding a hearing.

Arkansas prisoner Malik Muntaqim is a member of the Nation of Islam (NOI). He alleged that literature developed by NOI ministers was essential to the practice of his faith, and that The Final Call, a weekly NOI periodical, was the primary means of providing religious instruction to NOI members and advancing their religion.

Prison officials apparently refused to allow Muntaqim to receive The Final Call or to lead NOI religious services. He then filed suit in state court alleging that 22 Arkansas Department of Corrections employees had violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc, et seq. and the Arkansas Constitution. He also filed motions for summary judgment, a preliminary injunction and default judgment, seeking to enjoin the defendants from violating his rights.

The trial court denied Muntaqim’s motion without holding a hearing on the merits, finding that the proposed injunction would alter the status quo and he had failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits.

The Arkansas Supreme Court reversed. Although a preliminary injunction hearing is not required in all circumstances, the Court found that a hearing should be held when the outcome of the motion turns on disputed facts.

The Supreme Court concluded that it was an abuse of discretion to refuse to hold a hearing on Muntaqim’s preliminary injunction motion, as he had “raised allegations which, if proven correct, could constitute substantial violations of liberty rights under the First Amendment and RLUIPA.” Those “allegations could, after a determination of the facts, potentially rise to the level of infringements of” Muntaqim’s religious rights, as the U.S. Supreme Court had “clearly stated that the denial of First Amendment rights, even for minimal amounts of time, constitutes irreparable harm.”

The Court explained that based on the circumstances in this 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.” The case was remanded for further proceedings. See: Muntaqim v. Hobbs, 2017 Ark 97, 514 S.W.3d 464 (Ark. 2017). 

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Related legal case

Muntaqim v. Hobbs