The opinion of the court was delivered by: MATTHEWS
The Parties and the Cause of Action
Petitioner, an inmate of the District of Columbia Jail,
seeks by this action a writ of mandamus or in the alternative a writ of habeas corpus. He complains of alleged religious discrimination practiced against him by the respondents. He says that his religious beliefs have been interfered with, that he has been denied religious practices and contacts permitted prison inmates of other religions, and that he has been punished solely because of his religious views. The petitioner further asserts that respondents have impeded his efforts to bring his grievances to the attention of the appropriate authorities, and have hampered him in his endeavors to contact counsel.
Since June 26, 1959, petitioner has been serving a sentence of from two to six years for robbery. From August 4, 1959 until June 6, 1960, he was an inmate of Lorton Reformatory, Lorton, Virginia,
and since then he has been an inmate of the jail.
Respondent, Donald Clemmer,
is the Director of the Department of Corrections, District of Columbia Government. Operating under the Commissioners of the District of Columbia, he is responsible for the general management of the Jail and of Lorton. The superintendents of these institutions operate under his direction and control. Mr. Clemmer, acting under the Attorney General, has and has had legal custody and control of petitioner at all times pertinent to this proceeding. Respondent, Sam Anderson,
is the Acting Superintendent of the Jail and, during the present absence of the Superintendent, is in charge of the Jail under Mr. Clemmer's supervision.
While petitioner was in Korea with the United States Army in 1954 or 1955, he learned of the Islamic religion of the Moslems. He first heard of the Muslim faith while in Jail awaiting trial in early 1959, became a convert to that faith late in the same year, and has so remained. Whether the Muslim faith is an authentic offshoot of the Islamic religion of the Moslems is not shown in the record.
The Muslims believe in Allah as their God. They regard their religion as the religion of Islam which teaches submission to the will of Allah.
According to their religion Muslims must pray at least five times per day. They must give charity to support the cause of Islam. They must believe in the scriptures, including the Koran, and in the prophets including the prophet Mohammed. They must believe in the resurrection and the hereafter.
Prison authorities have acknowledged that petitioner seems very devoted to his faith,
and that it 'is in some way related to increasing his status as a negro * * *'
To him the main attraction of the Muslim faith is that it gave him something to associate himself with, something to uplift him from the degradation to which he had fallen.
The Denial of Muslim Religious Services
In September 1959 a group of Muslims at Lorton requested permission from Mr. Clemmer to hold religious services. He took the matter under advisement and discussed their doctrine and their beliefs with them. The matter was under advisement until approximately January 1960, when Mr. Clemmer decided not to permit them to meet. The Muslims at Lorton at that time numbered somewhere between thirty and fifty.
Mr. Clemmer was thereafter requested by the Muslims on several occasions, both in writing and orally, to allow Muslim religious services, and on each occasion he declined. Petitioner was among those who requested permission to hold such services. Mr. Clemmer's refusal to allow such services remains in effect.
The decision of Mr. Clemmer not to allow the Muslims to hold religious services was based primarily upon his belief that the Muslims teach racial hatred, that such teaching is inflammatory and likely to create a disturbance or disorder, and hence would not promote the welfare of the prison population. His belief that the Muslims teach racial hatred is not without support in the record. An expert called by petitioner testified:
'In don't know any other religion that teaches racial hatred as an essential part of the faith of the religion. There are many religions which have practiced racial hatred at various times, but this movement is the only movement that I know of which makes it a tenet of the faith that all white people should be hated.'
The Muslims 'consider the white man as their natural enemy' according to a handbook which a witness for petitioner regards as 'a standard and recognized text of religious denominations in the United States.'
The spiritual leader of the Muslims is Elijah Muhammad. He describes himself as the messenger of Allah and such description is accepted by his followers. In his writings he portrays the white race as a race of total evil -- a race of devils,
thieves, robbers, scientists at tricks, world snoopers, meddlers,
He declares that to survive, negroes and whites must be separated.
of a separate Black State. Despite the admixture of political aspirations, economic goals, and racial prejudice in Muslim doctrine, substantial emphasis is placed by the Muslims upon religious faith and observances.
The Muslim Faith is a Religion
Under freedom of religion in this country a person has an absolute right to embrace the religious belief of his choice. The Constitution does not define 'religion'
and reference to standard sources of the meaning of words indicates that there is not complete agreement on even a definition of the term.
Nor is it the function of the court to consider the merits or fallacies of a religion or to praise or condemn it, however excellent or fanatical or preposterous it may be. Whether one is right about his religion is not a subject of knowledge but only a matter of opinion.
It is sufficient here to say that one concept of religion calls for a belief in the existence of a supreme being controlling the destiny of man. That concept of religion is met by the Muslims in that they believe in Allah, as a supreme being and as the one true god. It follows, therefore, that the Muslim faith is a religion.
Religious Activities in Prison
Petitioner's claim that he has been discriminated against because of his religion is made in the following prison setting.
The prison populations are overwhelmingly Protestant. In the Lorton prison there are 1725 inmates, 1500 colored and 225 white. Of the 1500 colored inmates, only 50 or less are Muslims.
Religious services are held by a large number of a denominations at Lorton and at the Jail and are conducted by volunteer as well as paid religious leaders. For example, services are held by Catholics, Jews, and Protestants, including Lutherans, Unitarians, Charistian Scientists and the Salvation Army. Bible classes and Moslem Culture classes have been hold; and interdenominational services are conducted regularly.
The number of inmates attending a single religious service has ranged from six hundred to fifteen. There are no restrictions as to the number of inmates ...