Convicted killer says state won't let him practice religion
Feb. 11, 2015
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A convicted killer has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state of Connecticut, saying he's not allowed to practice his religion in prison.
Kevin Harris is serving a life sentence for a 1993 murder in Bristol. He is a member of the Nation of Gods and Earths, an offshoot of the Nation of Islam more commonly known as the Five Percenters, which was founded in New York in the 1960s.
The group promotes black empowerment and teaches that black men are Gods.
According to court papers, the state has classified the Nation of Gods and Earths as a "Disruptive Group," similar to a prison gang or racial supremacist group.
"This is theological persecution, cut and dry," said Born King Allah, the executive director of a group called the National Office of Cultural Affairs and managing editor of the Five Percenter Newspaper. "It strikes me un-American that a Department of Corrections has the authority to deny someone their inalienable right to a God of their own understanding."
The Nation of Gods and Earths teaches that only 5 percent of the population knows and teaches the truth. Ten percent conspire to hide the truth, are devils and enslave the poor. The rest, 85 percent, have not yet received knowledge.
Its philosophy has been included in the lyrics of hip-hop music by such artists as Busta Rhymes and Wu Tang Clan.
In the lawsuit, which was filed on Jan. 26, Harris said officials in 2013 seized religious literature "necessary to the practice of my religion" from his cell as contraband and have denied his appeals to get it back.
Karen Martucci, a Correction Department spokeswoman, declined to comment on the department's reasoning, citing the pending litigation.
The department's administrative directives allow the director of religious services to decide what is a religion, based on whether there is a body of literature stating principles that support the practices and whether the practices are recognized by a group of people who share common ethical, moral or intellectual views.
David McGuire, and attorney for the ACLU of Connecticut who is not involved in this case, said under a federal law passed in 2000, the state must allow prisoners with a sincere religious belief to practice that religion in prison in the "least restrictive way," while still maintaining safety and security in the prisons.
The Five Percenters have been treated as a security threat in several prison systems because of their racial views, and court rulings on the issue have been mixed.
A federal judge in Michigan found in 2009 that while prison security is a "compelling state interest," he found no evidence that Nation of Gods and Earths advocates violence and ruled its literature should be allowed in prisons.
But a federal judge in Virginia last year ruled that the Five Percenters act as a gang in that state's prisons and can be treated as one.