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AZEEZ v. FAIRMAN

January 22, 1985

QAID RAFEEQ AZEEZ, ABDULLAH MUHAMMAD, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JAMES W. FAIRMAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baker, Chief Judge.

    FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW, AND FINAL ORDER

The plaintiffs, Qaid Rafeeq Azeez and Abdullah Muhammad, who are inmates of the Illinois Department of Corrections, complain that the defendants' policy of using the plaintiffs' "committed names", Stanley Russell and Jessie Fields, respectively, and punishing the plaintiffs for their refusal to use or respond to their committed names, unconstitutionally restricts their expression and exercise of their religious beliefs. The defendants, J.W. Fairman, J.E. Wright, and A. Dodge are administrators and correctional officers of the Illinois Department of Corrections. At the times of the occurrences complained of, the plaintiffs were residents of the Pontiac Correctional Center. The plaintiffs testified to disciplinary proceedings and denial of privileges associated with their use of their Muslim names. The plaintiffs argue that the Department of Corrections has shown no compelling state interest in refusing to acknowledge the plaintiffs' religiously based name changes. Thus, the plaintiffs claim that the defendants unreasonably restricted their religious freedom.

I.

The plaintiffs testified, and the court finds, that members of the Muslim community, upon embracing Al Islam, commonly adopt new names which reflect an "attribute of God" and which signify their new commitment. This practice has a basis in the Quran, and Wallace D. Muhammad, the chief minister of the nation of Islam, has urged the Muslim faithful to follow it. See Attachments to Plaintiffs' Memo of Law.

Both plaintiffs have adopted Muslim surnames since their incarceration. The plaintiff Muhammad testified that he has been an adherent of Islam since the 1960's, but did not change his name until his commitment to the Department of Corrections. The plaintiff Azeez has been through an Illinois judicial proceeding based on statute which resulted in a court order formally changing his name. Plaintiffs' Exhibit 2. These name changes are a result of the plaintiffs' sincere adherence to Al-Islam, and these name changes have religious significance to them.

Richard Ores, the identification supervisor at Pontiac, issued an identification card to Azeez, following his change of name, bearing only his Muslim name. The prison administrators then decided that an a/k/a designation should be used on the plaintiffs' identification cards. The policy of the Department of Corrections was to recognize only "committed names". Defendants' Exhibits A-13, A-14, and M-3. The plaintiffs insisted that they wanted identification cards bearing only their Muslim names. The defendants, however, offered evidence, and the court finds, that the plaintiffs each accepted identification cards bearing both their Muslim and committed names during June of 1981. Plaintiffs' Exhibits 8-9. The plaintiffs also insist that their institutional records should bear their Muslim names. Plaintiffs' Exhibits 18-19.

However, the writ of mandamus issued by the state court commanding prison officials to recognize and honor plaintiff Azeez's new name, further orders that no changing of institutional records is required. Plaintiffs' Exhibit 2. The defendant, J.W. Fairman, who was Warden at Pontiac at the time, ordered that the plaintiffs were to use "committed names" on all institutional documents but could use their new religious names in addition to their committed names. Plaintiffs' Exhibits 18-19.

The defendants justify the disciplinary action against the plaintiffs on the ground that the plaintiffs refused to obey valid orders. In addition, the defendants point out that the plaintiff Muhammad disfigured his identification card and threatened the institutional staff. Plaintiffs' Exhibit 33.

The plaintiffs testified that they were denied access to the law library, Plaintiffs' Exhibits 10, 11, and 23, the commissary, Plaintiffs' Exhibits 4-7, 19 and 28, "sick call," the clothing room, religious activities, Plaintiffs' Exhibits 15 and 21, and notary services, Plaintiffs' Exhibit 27, and that their identification cards were confiscated, Plaintiff's Exhibit 20, because of the defendants' refusal to recognize the plaintiffs' name changes. The defendants offered evidence that privileges were refused only when the plaintiffs refused to sign their "committed names" along with their Muslim names.

II.

The defendants seemed to claim at trial that the plaintiffs occupied different positions in this case because the plaintiff Muhammad had not obtained a court order changing his name. That claim is without substance. The Illinois statutory provisions regarding name changes, Ill. Rev.Stat. ch. 96, are only permissive and do not abrogate the common law right to change a name without a formal application. Reinken v. Reinken, 351 Ill. 409, 184 N.E. 639 (1933); see also Thomas v. Thomas, 100 Ill. App.3d 1080, 1081, 56 Ill.Dec. 604, 427 N.E.2d 1009 (1981). The common law name change is valid, however, only if the change does not interfere with the rights of others by serving a fraudulent purpose. Chaney v. Civil Service Commission, 82 Ill.2d 289, 294, 45 Ill.Dec. 146, 412 N.E.2d 497 (1980). The defendants made no showing of any fraudulent purpose behind the plaintiff Muhammad's name change, although they alleged generally that name changes could be confusing. That argument goes more toward the defendants' institutional security and efficiency arguments justifying a "committed name" policy rather than to show a requirement for Muhammad to change his name in a court proceeding. The plaintiffs stand on the same footing as each other in this case.

The defendants also dispute, to a certain extent, the reasons underlying the plaintiffs' name changes. In particular, plaintiff Muhammad, a long-time adherent of Islam, was questioned as to why it took him so long to change his name. Muhammad testified as to the use of "X" by followers of Malcolm "X" to signify cancellation of the names used prior to accepting Islam. Muhammad said that current religious practice requires the use of an Islamic name. The defendants argue that Muslim name changes are "purely a matter of personal opinion and not a matter of religious necessity". The defendants state many Muslims have never changed their names. Defendants' Brief, Page 4.

In Masjid Muhammad-D.C.C. v. Keve, 479 F. Supp. 1311 (D.Del. 1979), the leading reported case regarding Muslim name changes among prisoners, the district court discussed change of name and its role within Islam. The court stated that "protected religious expression encompasses more than orthodox or institutionalized practices." Id. at 1323. "To be protected, a particular form of religious expression need not be mandated by one's religion or even endorsed by a majority of its adherents, so long as it is an expression of a sincere, religiously based conviction." Id. See also Stevens v. Berger, 428 F. Supp. 896, 899 (S.D.N.Y. 1977); Theriault v. Silber, 391 F. Supp. 578, 580 (W.D.Tex. 1975). Neither federal courts nor prison administrators are authorized to determine the orthodoxy of religious ...


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