Source: Associated Press
By ALANNA DURKIN RICHER
Virginia’s prison system must recognize an offshoot of the Nation of Islam as a religion and allow inmates who are followers to congregate and possess its publications, a federal judge ruled Monday.
The Virginia Department of Corrections has long considered the Nation of Gods and Earths, also known as the Five Percenters, to be a “security threat group,” which means inmates have not been allowed to hold gatherings or have access to its sacred texts.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled the policy violates inmates’ First Amendment right to freely exercise their religion and ordered Virginia to treat the group like all other beliefs behind bars. She said the department failed to prove that Nation of Gods and Earths is a “violent, racially supremacist gang.”
“After twenty-one years of tracking Five Percenters, the (Virginia Department of Corrections) has not produced sufficient evidence supporting its position that the gang designation is warranted and furthers a compelling state interest,” Brinkema wrote.