Attorney Ava Muhammad: "We need to have this matter settled once and for all"

N.O.I. Attorney Ava Muhammad

(Blogger's Note: Yesterday I attended our Sunday meeting at Muhammad Mosque No. 45 here in Houston and we watched the live streaming webcast from Mosque Maryam in Chicago. The keynote speaker was Student Minister, author and attorney Ava Muhammad. She delivered a message full of depth and drove home the point of the importance of us controlling our thinking in order to escape the time we're living in. If you missed it, you can watch the archive at http://www.noi.org/webcast.

During her message she also talked about the recent ruling made by a Louisiana judge in the case of Henry Leonard, who was being unconstitutionally denied access to The Final Call newspaper. Sister Ava played a key role in securing the winning decision and I interviewed her for this article I wrote for The Final Call. She also thanked Attorneys Abdul Arif Muhammad, Athill Muhammad, Warren F. Muhammad, Pamela Muhammad, and Qiana Muhammad for their hard work on the case as well.)

Ruling sets stage for broader fight for inmate access to The Final Call

(FinalCall.com) - The recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Donald Walter in Shreveport, La., restored rights to The Final Call newspaper to an inmate who was unconstitutionally being denied the paper in the David Wade Correctional Center (DWCC). According to Nation of Islam attorney Ava Muhammad, an appeal by the state of Louisiana is expected and welcomed.

“We fully expect the state of Louisiana to take this up on appeal to the Fifth Circuit (Court of Appeals). We want them to do that because there are facilities all over the country that are denying inmates access to this paper. It is our position that we need to have this matter settled once and for all,” said Mrs. Muhammad to The Final Call.

“We think this is an excellent time and decision that offers us the opportunity to force this issue to final resolution,” said Mrs. Muhammad, who received her Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana backed the lawsuit of inmate Henry Leonard and filed it May 2007, which was a year after he was restricted from receiving copies of the weekly Nation of Islam newspaper. Attorneys representing Louisiana claimed on behalf of prison officials that the reason behind the censorship was newspaper content deemed racially inflammatory—in particular The Muslim Program, which appears on the inside back page of The Final Call.

“They requested an expert testimony from the Nation of Islam to explain The Muslim Program in April 2009. The Honorable Minister Farrakhan gave me that assignment. He asked me to take the deposition, be questioned by the attorney from the state of Louisiana and to explain The Muslim Program,” said Mrs. Muhammad.

The deposition presented by Mrs. Muhammad in April 2009 took place in Chicago on the grounds of Mosque Maryam, the headquarters of the Nation of Islam. Her deposition was nearly 200 pages and she went point by point through The Muslim Program.

“They actually wanted to focus on Point No. 4 of What The Muslims Want and to lift that out as being racially inflammatory. I gave a very in-depth explanation and educated them so that they could rise to an understanding that separation—contrary to the idea that this is a racist concept—is actually as the Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches, the best solution and a peaceful solution,” she argued.

Mr. Leonard, who is a former Baton Rouge police officer, was convicted of murdering his estranged wife's boyfriend. He has been a practicing member of the Nation since 1985. According to Mrs. Muhammad, the court also questioned whether it would be sufficient for Mr. Leonard to just sit in on services conducted in the prison by an imam under the late Imam Warith Deen Muhammad, instead of receiving The Final Call.

“We objected that on the grounds of Point No. 12 of What The Muslims Believe. That distinguishes us from other Muslims and it does not make us any less than Muslim. We adhere to the principles of the Holy Qur'an. However, absent that cardinal principle (Point No. 12), we cannot follow our faith. That is the core principle of being a follower of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad under the direction of Minister Louis Farrakhan,” said Mrs. Muhammad.

Mrs. Muhammad further explained to The Final Call that “the imam, whose deposition was taken, actually referred to that point as blasphemy. This led the court to the conclusion that there is no substitute for our material.”

On March 31, Judge Donald Walter ruled in favor of the plaintiff on the basis that the prison officials could not deliver any evidence that The Final Call newspaper was the source of any violence. “Again, this Court is concerned that the complete banning of the publication because of the inclusion of “The Muslim Program” is an exaggerated response to DWCC's concern about racially inflammatory material,” Judge Walter wrote in his 21-page ruling.

“I was so ecstatic about this decision and my eyes welled. This case was very dear to me and we put in a lot of hours,” said Katie Schwartzmann to The Final Call. As the Louisiana ACLU's legal director, she spearheaded the lawsuit.


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