A national organization is suing North Carolina over what it says is state prison officials’ refusal to allow atheists or humanists to hold study groups like religious inmates do.
The American Humanist Association’s legal center filed the lawsuit in federal court in Raleigh on Wednesday on behalf of Kwame Jamal Teague, an inmate at Lanesboro Correctional Institution in Anson County. The suit accuses the prison system of discriminating against Teague and others in violation of their constitutional free speech and due process protections.
"Disregarding the rights of humanist and atheist inmates to meet and discuss their convictions is a form of blatant discrimination against nontheists, who should receive the same treatment as anyone else in the prison system," Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, said in a news release. "We are not claiming that humanism is a religion, but humanists and atheists must be given the same rights as the religious."
The lawsuit asks that a judge order the state to provide similar study groups for all inmates, and that unspecified damages be awarded. The suit also asks that humanists be recognized for assignment purposes.
Teague has been in prison since 1996, serving life sentences for first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of two men in Wayne County in 1994. He has claimed he was innocent.
While in prison, he has become an author of what the Urban Book Source website describes as hip-hop fiction.
The Urban Book Source interviewed him in 2007, when he said he was optimistic that he might be released – "Insha Allah, which means Allah willing," he was quoted as saying in the interview. The phrase is predominately used in the Muslim religion but not strictly.