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Arkansas Supreme Court Denies Prisoner Preliminary Injunction on Religious Issues

On June 6, 2019 the Supreme Court of Arkansas denied a prisoner’s appeal of a circuit court’s refusal to issue a preliminary injunction regarding Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) policies as applied to his free exercise claims as a follower of the Nation of Islam (NOI).

Malik Muntaqim filed suit against the ADC for denying him issues of NOI’s periodical, The Final Call, between 2013 and 2015 and because the ADC refuses to allow him to lead services specific to his faith. He brought these claims under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). However, for the purposes of the appeal, the Court only addressed the First Amendment claims because Muntaqim failed to ask for findings from the circuit court regarding the RLUIPA claims.

After his first interlocutory appeal, the circuit court held a hearing to determine whether he could meet the two-factor test for a preliminary injunction. Those factors are “(1) whether irreparable harm will result in the absence of an injunction and (2) whether the moving party has demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits.” See Muntaqim v. Hobbs, 2017 Ark. 97. Under Smith v. Am. Trucking Ass’n, Inc., 300 Ark. 594 (1989), Muntaqim bore the burden of demonstrating both factors.

Muntaqim asked the circuit court to require the ADC to allow him to receive NOI materials regardless of their content. The court found that the ADC had not denied any issues since 2015, and that the issues that had been denied contained language that encouraged readers to “rise up and strike out at their oppressors.”

The court found that denial of those issues was reasonably related to prison security, which has been recognized as “the most compelling government interest in a prison setting” under Murphy v. Mo. Dep’t of Corr., 372 F.3d 979 (8th Cir. 2004). Further, prisons may limit incoming publications for security concerns as decided in Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 US 401 (1989).

Muntaqim also asked the court to require the ADC to allow him to lead NOI-specific services. Muslim prisoners may currently attend weekly Friday Jumu’ah prayer services led by prisoners because it is a prayer-only service that does not include teachings.

The ADC’s chaplain testified that only credentialed volunteers are allowed to teach and lead services in order “to protect prison security and order by preventing the dissemination of unorthodox or heretical views to the respective religion or sect, which could result in violence.”

Muntaqim currently refuses to attend Jumu’ah, stating it is against his faith to worship next to orthodox Muslims who refuse to recognize the NOI. The court found this policy reasonably related to prison security interests under Murphy.

The Supreme Court of Arkansas reviews interlocutory appeals of preliminary injunctions merely for abuse of discretion, which occurs only when the decision is made “thoughtlessly and without due consideration.” The Court determined the circuit court’s refusal considered all the applicable issues and applied the proper precedent regarding the priority of prison security.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court of Arkansas upheld the circuit court’s refusal of a preliminary injunction requested by Malik Muntaqim regarding the ADC’s policies. See: Muntaqim v. Lay, 2019 Ark. 203 (Ark. 2019). 


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Related legal case

Muntaqim v. Lay